Monday, September 24, 2007

High tech, low tech

I went to see the new Complicite piece at the Barbican: A Disappearing Number. Simon McBurney is one of the three or four directors in the world whose work I am always fascinated and excited by - and I had a wonderful night.

Discussed the play over the weekend with my old friend from India, Prakash Belawadi, who is in the UK for a British Council conference on multi-culturalism ("reducing the problems of the world to bullet points", he says). Prakash was Caliban when I directed The Tempest in Bangalore all those years ago, so we have our own history of intercultural dialogue. And it's really interesting to talk to an Indian person about a play which deals with India, and which avoids the exotic trap. We're both excited by the genuine engagement in the piece. Where Prakash has his doubts about the piece is in the distancing of time, rather than of culture. The history of the two mathematicians isn't explored in the depth he would like - in fact, he knows another play which he feels works through the same subject in far more depth. I see what he means - and find myself adding the question as to whether the mathematics itself, which the play works very hard to relate to the characters, actually comes together with the human story in any meaningful way. Is death really the same as infinity? Isn't it more like "finity"? Would it not need a deeper exploration of Indian ideas to move death towards the infinite?

A Disappearing Number is a very high-tech show. It's designed by Michael Levine, who I know from our work with Atom Egoyan, and it bears many of the marks of his history with Robert Lepage. And nothing wrong with that! The emerging style of contemporary theatre, technology-driven and fragmented, is a pretty direct reflection of much contemporary experience. It's a form I like very much, and which resembles lots of our own work, most noticeably Orientations and Dis-Orientations. So it's very helpful for me (as I begin to think about the final Trilogy) to watch somebody else whom I admire having a go at something similar. In this show, as in ours, the emotional climaxes feel a bit "out of nowhere". Miscarriages and collapses, like break-ups and suicides, only really affect an audience if they proceed from characters and relationships we care about. It's a temptation to throw them in, pursuing the easy emotional tug. Must be careful of that.

I wonder whether some of these things don't happen because the style, the technology, takes up so much time and energy that some of the more basic stuff just gets squeezed out. No danger of that with Dilemma, anyway. This will be our most low-tech show ever. I didn't plan it like this - but the combination of touring with the Africa Centre (which is deeply deprived on the technology front - indeed on the electricity front) has led us towards a production which could be done in an open space in an African village (and hopefully will be). Probably this will do me a lot of good, especially in the current theatrical climate. It's important to go back to the beginning from time to time.

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