Saturday, October 27, 2007

Opening in Plymouth

Michael Walling writes:
I'm back! Steve will still be reporting on the show from time to time, I'm sure, as we travel the country over the next few weeks. He's been madly busy for the last few days in Plymouth, facilitating community workshops with the actors for the Respect Festival, and dealing with the streams of notes which pour out of my mouth during technical and dress rehearsals. We did a day of workshops on Thursday, followed by rigging and lighting the show that night. Nick Moran is an old chum, having done Bullie's House as well as various ENO shows with me, so we're able to work quickly with a shared language. It's just as well - on Friday we do the tech in a record four hours, which just about gives us time for a swift lunch and a dress rehearsal before the opening performance.

I love the Barbican Theatre - a converted church in the old part of Plymouth. It has the sense of community focus and radical idealism which fringe theatres ought to have. At 6pm I get paraded in front of the local movers and shakers to talk about the importance of intercultural work, and the significance of this production having its premiere in this city, which is twinned with Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana, and where the first of Britain's slave traders, John Hawkins, had his home and became mayor..... As I finish, I spot Kate Sparshott at the back of the room. An instant flashback to meeting her in Ghana last year, at the Elmina cross-roads itself. A rather wonderful sense of the whole thing coming together floods over me.

And come together it does, in front of a wacky, diverse, and lively full house. There are Ghanaians in traditional clothes, whispering translations of Aunty Ama's Twi to their neighbours. There are apparently staid middle-aged people who end the evening dancing on the stage with the cast. There are older people and quite young children. It all feels great to me.

At the end of the night, I talk to Awusi Michell, the young Ghanaian who has been looking after the cast here. She's been gathering in the audience research questionnaires, and knows how excited the responses are. She tells me that, like many Ghanaians, she studied this play at school, and appeared in it as the ghost of Eulalie's mother. And yet, she says, it's only in this production that she feels she's truly come to understand the play. And she's quite clear that it's because we have used both Ghanaian and Western actors, allowing the play to express and give weight to both cultures. I couldn't ask for a better reaction.

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