I’m waiting for the plane from Athens to Doha, from where I’ll connect on to Hong Kong. How mad is this? I’m going there for the British Council’s Connections through Culture get-together at the Hong Kong Festival, hoping to make some links for the future, and especially to get the Trilogy in to some of the key Asian festivals, which are perhaps its most obvious home. It’s Thursday lunchtime, and I came directly here from the morning opera rehearsal. I arrive in Hong Kong Friday lunchtime; go to a performance tomorrow night, then a full-day symposium on Saturday, prior to another night at the theatre, and late-night jazz with more essential exchange of business cards and DVDs. Then I’m planning to meet up with Ieng Un on Sunday, before getting the plane back on Monday, sleeping in Doha airport while cuddling this laptop; then catching a connecting flight which gets me back in time for Tuesday evening’s Nixon rehearsal in Athens. Fred is holding the fort in the meantime, but on Tuesday lunchtime he flies to London for Amrita’s season at the Barbican, so neatly passing the operatic baton. I’ve no idea how we managed to dovetail this so neatly, but we did. Two madmen working in opera and linked to Asian theatre, albeit in very different ways.
These last couple of weeks have been characterised by our difference, in ways which Zhou Enlai (whose Shanghai Communiqué is full of the sense that it’s fine to be different) might well have approved. Fred is the blocking man: he knows this staging backwards, having worked on the opera in virtually every incarnation since 1987. Which is a long time in politics and opera alike. He’s both patient and precise. My job is to help flesh the staging out, to talk about history and poetry, character and emotion. There’s a very clear division of labour, and it works. The trips have come at the right time in this sense too. By the time I’m back, Fred will have staged everything, leaving me to energise it next week.
Sometimes, I feel as if I’m reading Fred’s recreation of Peter’s staging as (if I were directing something new) I might read a text or a score. Thinking about what it might mean – what resonance this work might acquire through the personality of this particular performer in this particular time and place. It’s good discipline, and oddly similar to some other things I’ve been doing, especially in the Trilogy. The elements of Yakshagana in Orientations, and of Yueju in Dis-Orientations, were in a way “authentic” (dread word), because they were quotations from traditional performances (very precisely so in the case of Ruihong and Haili’s work from The Butterfly Lovers in Dis-Orientations). My job became to give it resonance through context. It’s a really interesting approach to how we might go about making new theatre for the globalised age.
It’s also very Asian. Like the tight discipline of the inherited routines in traditional Asian theatre, the rigour of this inherited staging, so alien to my Western spirit of individual free creativity, can in fact be a very liberating and empowering thing. I’m forced to be more creative because the restraints are so extreme. In the same way that Ruihong and Radhakrishna make something new and beautiful out of an inherited structure.
I wonder whether what I’m doing on Nixon should be classed as direction, or as dramaturgy. Then I decide it doesn’t really matter.
To the plane.