Monday, November 05, 2007

Back in London

Back at the Africa Centre, for our London opening. It's been a very long week! We lit the show on Friday after driving back from Leicester, then did a tech run and two shows on Saturday, plus a Sunday matinee, as well as squeezing in a few radio interviews! The good news is that there have been decent-sized audiences, with a predominance of African people, and that their response has been little short of ecstatic. We've had loads of great feedback on the research questionnaires, but I thought for this blog I should just quote an email which arrived this morning.

"I could have paid a lot of money to sit silently and watch any performance from the stalls at any other theatre but I chose to watch Dilemma of a Ghost at The Africa Centre and was welcomed into a world. Within moments of the lights dimming the stars of an African night materialised above us and I was immediately transported back to a landscape that was familiar to me. A chorus of women huddled in one corner wearing blankets seemingly in a trance and the gentle, rhythmic beauty of a Seprewa being played by a traditional Ghanian musician Osei Korankye in another. I was transfixed and transported from the beginning!

This however, was a very gentle introduction into the most thought-provoking, potent, vibrant, mesmerising, cathartic and communal performance I've ever seen outside of Africa.

It was directed using the Ghanaian style of Theatre, total and interactive. The style is called Abibgromma and it is storytelling using the language of colour, folklore, music, dance, mime, movement and spirituality. It was very powerful but not in any sense overwhelming, in fact it drew you in to the core.

The venue lent itself to the proximity required to tell such a tale. The Africa Centre in Covent Garden was once a place that sold slaves and this in part was the story, the Ghost. It is a tiny room with slim iron pillars that surround the hall decorated in Victorian Broekie lace (think Long Street in Cape Town) and provide support for a gallery. At one point I found myself metaphorically standing in the gallery, leaning over the ornate railing, in some African town. I could feel the heat of the sun on my back as I observed a street scene below (the performance) and felt myself step back against the protection of the wall into the shadow and cool, still watching as a scene below became more heated.

Although the audience were sat in chairs below I felt as the story unfolded I wanted to be sitting on the wooden floorboards getting more and more drawn in to the Ghanaian chants, music and action of the performers. Funny that, as the story ended the dancing began and members of the audience were encouraged to join in.....they're probably still dancing now!

The Dilemmas that run through the play are complex and stem from not knowing which path to choose, the past the present. How to deal with the past from a Ghanaian National's point of view, from an African exile's point of view and from a Western point of view. How to relate to each other with regard to the past, slavery and cultural differences.

Also, it was a Dilemma I imagine for the author writing about slavery from a Ghanaian perspective in English in 1964, the same Dilemma today approaching this sensitive subject.

I don't pretend to understand everything about the production partly because I'm not Ghanaian and partly because I'm just your average theatre goer, but I do feel enriched and mighty glad I went to see it. Its taken 42 years to sail across from Ghana and I thoroughly recommend you are there to take her lines and welcome her ashore!

This (in my opinion) was theatre at its best, this was how the legacy of a generation, the identity of a Nation, its culture, history, growth and change should be presented and understood and perhaps learnt from. "

That's from a lady called Lorel McConnell - to whom many thanks!

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