Monday, July 24, 2006

The Last Day in Accra

Thursday was the last day in Accra. It began at 6am, with Kofi banging on the door. I'd rather foolishly said that we could go and meet his Auntie Efua "first thing in the morning", forgetting that African definitions of the day's beginning are very different from European ones. Still, Auntie Efua was a joy, sitting among nursery children in a collection of Madina shacks, and flicking through Jane Eyre. While we're talking (it's now 8am) Nisha rings to say the Work Permits have arrived. I ask her to fax Zhang Ruihong's to the Yue Opera Company, and to notify Meijing. They've done it fast, as I asked. Nice of them.

The day's timetable is meant to be simple, but of course Ghana isn't like that. At 11, I see Amanda at the British Council again. She's highly excited to hear about the plan for a co-production across both countries, the involvement of the National Theatre Company, and the list of performers I'm proposing. Thank you Dzifa, thank you James, thank you Awo! The key, of course, is to make all this happen, and this is where I hope the British Council might come on board. Amanda asks me to come back at 4, to meet the Director, John Payne.

In between, I need to scout out the National Theatre building, as an alternative venue to the Legon amphitheatre, and one which I know Ghanaian collaborators are likely to prefer, if only because of its central location. It's a huge, very modern structure, very well equipped, and totally at odds with its far more modest surroundings. This is because it's one example of the enormous Chinese investment in West Africa: as I walk backstage, I can see Chinese characters on the windows. China has spent a huge amount in this region: all of which is clearly intended to promote trade and political links. These are two emerging powers we should not ignore....

The National Theatre is currently closed for refurbishment, and I'm led round by a young man called Francis from George Hagan's office. The leading is quite literal, because there are no lights, and several times he takes me by the hand to get me around. There's no qualms about men holding hands here - even people who've just met! The only way I can get any idea of what this theatre might look like is by flash photography. It seems to be a barn of a place. 1500 seats. But well-equipped, and central. If we end up here, we'll have to work hard to make things feel rough enough.

I just get time to buy some amazing paintings at amazingly low prices before seeing John. Odd how, after so many productive discussions, you always end up with the middle-aged white man in the suit talking about money. Not that John is a typical suit: like most British Council people, he's anxious to make real exciting collaborations happen, and can see beyond the stale rhetoric of his political masters. I think we will need to make some quite specific cases in quite specific ways, but he gives me enough hints for me to feel we have a friend here. I phone Dzifa to let her know, and thank her for all she's done. I have to leave her with a warning - I won't be touching this project for a while, given the imminence of Dis-Orientations. But, come the autumn, we'll make this happen. Roll on 2007. I won't say good-bye to Ghana, just "au revoir".

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