Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Athens and Africa

I'm in Athens for three days, getting things sorted out for the next incarnation of Nixon in China with the National Opera of Greece. Extraordinary hectic days, rushing around trying to work out how to schedule it all, and who will actually be here (!), at the same time as breathing in a sense of this city.... this city where theatre truly began. Or Western theatre, I should say. More time for that when I'm here for two months in March and April. The Acropolis and the Theatre of Dionysus - glimpsed today from flying taxis - I can hardly wait.

As usual with working abroad, the evenings are a bit of a limbo. Email, reading and blogging. Last night I went to see The Last King of Scotland (in English with surreal Greek subtitles). There's a moment when Idi Amin says the Greeks stole their philosophy from Africa, which of course brought the Athenian house down.... but he's kind of right, actually. Read Black Athena.

The film is fabulous. All the traps of Hollywod Goes to Africa have been subtly and wonderfully avoided (except perhaps for the presence of the Caucasian Angel - though this particular altruistic medic is played by Gillian Anderson, so seems human, and is offset by James McAvoy as the cynical, opportunistic, and frankly exploitative Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, through whose eyes we see Uganda - so I forgive them!). Forest Whitaker is stunning as Amin: I'm told he went all "method" and was like that even when the cameras weren't rolling, which must have been by turns hilarious and terrifying for everybody else. What's so brilliant about this performance and the film as a whole is that it only slowly emerges how monstrous this regime was. Through the first sections of the film we get Amin the clown, Amin the charmer, even hints of Amin the liberator. It's only gradually that this transforms into total horror - a horror that should make the West sit up and take notice, because the film is quite clear that Amin was the creature of the West: his coup engineered by Britain when the previous regime got "uppity". Just like Saddam Hussein in fact. As Peter Sellars says, if you want to know where the next dictatorship will be, just check out who the CIA and MI5 are being nice to.

I'm reminded of the very different approach to Amin in Third World Bunfight's pantomime of horror, Big Dada. There too, you saw how easily people were won over. I remember talking to Brett Bailey about the production, and his characteristic response, disturbing in its blank honesty: "Idi Amin was a funny man. I liked him."

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