Friday, July 27, 2007

The Africa Centre

I spent most of yesterday afternoon in the Africa Centre with Elsie, Kate, Nick Moran (our newly recruited lighting designer) and Graeme from Business Culture, who are running the building until it gets re-opened in spanking new form, round about 2010. The previous evening, Graeme and I had both been at the architects, Ash Sakula, looking at the plans. This was a serious gathering of movers and shakers around African activities in the UK, where I was very excited to meet Biyi Bandele. He and I had overlapped at Central in 2006, but never got to chat before. He kept me entertained with anecdotes about the Nigerian film industry. "Nollywood" is apparently conquering the entire continent.

The architects have made an amazing job of the Centre. Given that it has the only original Georgian frontage in Covent Garden, which leads into a very narrow, long space, they have found ways of cramming in a vast number of surprisingly large spaces. The real debates during the evening are more to do with management and usage. One thing which stands out very clearly is the centrality to any work in the space of the old auction hall, which sits very powerfully in the centre, and is retained in the new design (not least because it's listed). Gottfreid, a visual artist, talks about how it is like the square in an African village - the open space used for markets, for culture, performance and politics.

That's exactly what we want to do with it too. Elsie and I get excited about the ways in which we can configure the room to make a really interesting actor-audience relationship, and Nick comes up with some really exciting ideas about how to light it in a very unconventional way, which says something different about what the performance is. The direct relationship with the audience which is so basic to African theatre will be at the heart of this show. Part of this, of course, is the welcome we can give them into the building, so we're delighted when Graeme suggests opening the basement area as a bar / restaurant / exhibition space during the run. This is very exciting - a way of extending the experience beyond the auditorium into the social ritual of theatre, in the way I've always loved at the Cartoucherie. I need to think more about it, but we're moving forwards!

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