Friday, May 22, 2009

Festival Finale

Origins came to an end last Sunday, and I'm only now emerging into the daylight to acknowledge the fact! It was an amazing couple of weeks. Of course, some things worked better than others, and some things drew bigger crowds than others - but that's to be expected, especially with the first Festival. Two standing ovations: one for the last performance of Almighty Voice and His Wife, and one for Alanis Obomsawin's incredibly moving Lecture.

At the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, Robert Greygrass and Jean Bruce-Scott presented me with a beautiful blanket, which is a great honour amongst the Native Americans. Considering that their show had (for some reason) drawn the smallest crowds, it was especially moving. I got a very powerful sense that everybody involved was seeing the bigger picture, and looking to future Festivals and wider possibilities.

I had dinner with David Milroy that evening. Great to talk to him at length, two years after we first discussed bringing over Windmill Baby. We go to the Festival hotel, and find the bar full of First Nations people. Patrick is playing his guitar, and Ant his flute. They are surrounded by Elders, performers, crew, and by the ever-increasing crowd of Origins fans we have assembled. An image of community.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Alanis Obomsawin

I spent most of yesterday in the company of Alanis, who is probably our most distinguished guest at Origins. I picked her up from her hotel at 12, and we went together to the very plush residence of Canada's Deputy High Commissioner, for a lunch to celebrate the 70th birthday of the National Film Board. Tom Perlmutter, the head of the NFB, was there with his wife - and there were other filmmakers and Festival directors, plus Simon from Canada House. In the thick of all the Festival mayhem, it was very nice to pause for a couple of hours and lap up some praise for what we've done!

I squeezed in an afternoon at the office before the screening of Alanis's film Kanehsatake at the British Museum. This is THE film I've wanted to show at the Festival, ever since I first saw it in Montreal in September. Fantastic to be able to do it with Alanis present. Or rather, present for the beginning and the end.... during the screening she whizzed off to Canada House in a taxi to yet another drinks reception, and then whizzed back again to us to do a Q&A with her usual incisiveness.

After that, she took us all for a drink, and was still partying away when I left at 10.30. I find it hard to believe that this woman is 76....

Alanis is giving The Origins Lecture at Riverside Studios tonight at 6.30. Promises to be amazing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Windmill Baby

The last of our opening nights. Windmill Baby is an exquisitely crafted, stunningly performed piece of Aboriginal Australian drama, by one of the key figures in the making of the Festival, David Milroy. It's a full two years since he and I sat in Perth, talking about the idea of bringing it to London - and last night there it was, moving its audience to gales of laughter and floods of tears. Fantastic.

The play is very much in the storytelling tradition of the Aboriginal people. One actor, Rohanna Angus, tells the story directly to the audience and plays all the characters. It's an amazing acting achievement - she gives each one a subtly different vocal and physical characterisation. It was hard to believe that she'd been to the doctor with a bad throat in the morning - she was performing such feats of vocal dexterity. There's one glorious moment when an audience member is brought on stage to listen to "the potato story". Last night, it was a particularly shy person, which made it very funny indeed. It's one of those brilliant pieces of theatrical writing that is hilarious whatever the unpredictable element does - like the way Shakespeare uses the dog in Two Gents.

Before the show, I did a conversation with Frank Davey about the role of the Elders in Aboriginal society. It's incredibly important that they brought Uncle Frank with them to the Festival - it gives them security, and it gives us authenticity and validation.

The show is at Riverside Studios till Sunday, and the number is 020 8237 1111.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Salvage had its press night at Riverside Studios yesterday. A bit of a misnomer, since the press didn't actually come.... having decided that their (admittedly rather good) coverage of Strange Resting Places was enough for Origins. Still, there was a very good house, with some really exciting guests - not least Alanis Obomsawin, who had just arrived from Canada in the morning. We're really excited that she's going to be involved for the rest of the Festival.

Alanis loved Salvage. It's a very poetic, mystical play - which in itself is strange, given that it's set in a contemporary reservation, and deals with the aftermath of a car crash. Diane Glancy, the writer, gves a powerful sense of contemporary realities in Native life (and pulls no punches about the social problems), but at the same time she allows room for the spirituality of the culture, and the sense of living in a continuum with the past. The main vehicle for this is the character of the father, Wolfert, who is played with amazing sensitivity by the Lakota actor and storyteller Robert Greygrass. I talk to him over drinks afterwards, and he tells me that this character is very familiar to him. A lot of older men don't exactly live by the old ways, but they feel very close to them. The scenes where he talks to his dead wife in the cemetery are really powerful.

So - now I can't wait for Windmill Baby tonight! It previewed yesterday, and I finally got to see David Milroy and welcome him and the team to London. To think it's two years since he and I first talked about doing this - and now they are finally here!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The incredible Festival

We're now half way through the Origins Festival. I can't really believe it was only last Monday that we did the Opening Ceremony - it feels like months, so much has happened. Strange Resting Places was a sell-out hit at Soho Theatre, and Almighty Voice and His Wife got standing ovations at Riverside Studios.

This week, both the shows are at Riverside. Salvage has its Press Night tonight, while Windmill Baby is pre-viewing, before a Press Night tomorrow. I've known Windmill Baby for a long time, in the text and on video, and I've known the writer, David Milroy, since we met in Perth back in June 2007 (crawl back through this blog to find the first impressions!!). It's really exciting finally to have the play in London, knowing how it's been received all over Australia and India - what an incredible, powerful piece of work it is.

Salvage I first read last summer, while I was in Tahoe, and I loved it from the start. I'd known about the writer, Diane Glancy, for some time - but this was a new play, which Native Voices were just about to put into production. So the time was ripe to add in the idea of Origins. When we spoke, Diane was under the impression the production would be in a simple black box with three chairs.... it actually has fences, cars, snow... and an amazing sound design. How things change in the process. It's just as well I put it in the larger Riverside space.

Last night, at the British Library, Diane was incredibly eloquent and poetic in her discussion of her work and of what makes Native Theatre generally. It made me even more excited finally to see her play tonight.

There are still tickets available - book now on 020 8237 1111 or !!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Great press for Origins

Five days into the Origins Festival, and the press is buzzing with the excitement of this extraordinary programme.

In today's Guardian, Lyn Gardner reviews Strange Resting Places at Soho Theatre:
"The feast plays a central part in Maori culture, and it does too in this charming three-hander which tells the stories of the 28th Maori Battalion who fought in Italy during the second world war. It was clearly an army that marched on its stomach even more than most..... A little show with a big heart. It introduces personal tales into the weave of history and makes connections across thousands of miles and many generations.... Strange Resting Places takes the lost stories of small people caught up in war, and magnifies their tragedies with respect and a smile."

In The Times, Sam Marlowe says of the same production:
"It exerts considerable charm... Leo Gene Peters's production has a cartoonish vivacity... some lovely lucid moments of emotional connection, conveyed in dialogue, zany clowning and music that embraces Italian folk tunes and the sung traditional Maori waiata, as well as hints of big band jazz in on the wings of American fighter pilots."

And Jay Griffiths has written a Comment piece in today's Guardian about the importance of the Festival as a whole:
"Opening with the crazy thunder of Maori performers, parts of the festival are wryly amusing, including the satirical docucomedy Qallunaat – Why White People Are Funny, an Inuit reversal of the anthropological gaze..... In its very programming, it reveals what art itself can mean for indigenous people as something inextricably tied to healing, ecological balance and spirituality."

Exciting times....

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Origins Opens

Origins opened on Monday, with a wonderful ceremony at the Scoop by City Hall. It started with Gloria Thomas, who is Catto, chanting by the Thames, and collecting fruit offerings for the river - blessing the Festival. Then Ngati Ranana, the London Maori group, welcomed the visiting artists. Since the Taki Rua company are also Maori, they were very au fait with the protocol, and the language too! The Native Earth group went with the flow.... There's a video online - click here!

As part of the welcome, Pete Postlethwaite spoke in the role of an Elder of British Theatre. You can listen to what he had to say if you Click here.

Last night, Strange Resting Places opened at Soho. One of the most joyous nights in the theatre I can remember or many years. A truly, truly wonderful play. Tonight, it's Almighty Voice and His Wife at the Riverside Studios. Watch this space.....