Friday, September 17, 2010

Great reviews for Re-Orientations

Reviews for Re-Orientations are really exciting - and so is the audience response. I hadn't realised until I saw the show at Soho just how funny it is!

Here are some quotes from the reviews and links:

"Deeply felt, powerfully performed, beautifully staged production" -Londonist

"Impressive, bold in ambition and fluid - like Robert Lepage.... Exquisite moments.... a terrific scene milking the comedy of cultural confusion" - Guardian

"Lives and cultures collide - sometimes violently - in this kaleidoscopic drama... intersecting stories set against a backdrop of hectic, often striking visuals.." - Times

"The visuals are stunning with video integrated into the action and choreography by French dance company a fleur de peau. I also love the way the company interweave different art forms and acting styes.... the company has also scored a real coup in engaging the talents of the great Chinese actress Song Ru Hui" - Theatreworld

"A two hour visual feast... Outstanding performances by Spatica Ramanujam with her exquisite comic timing and superb characterisation, and Qi Bai Xue's striking stage presence" -

There's only a week left to catch this acclaimed production at Soho Theatre before it tours to Shanghai and Sweden. Click here to book now!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One week in

The show has been playing for a week now - two previews, press night and the first "real" shows. The press night was a wonderful evening - a real pay-off after such a long process of creation. Everything melded very beautifully, and the audience response was ecstatic. Quite a few people on their feet. My friend Stewart, who runs the Barbados Festival, said it was like the best meal he'd ever eaten - there were so many different dishes, so beautifully blended.

The first reviews are out too. There are brilliant ones on Londist and spoonfed, suggesting (as I suspected) that this is work with a strong appeal to younger, web-savvy, cosmopolitan people. There are some great comments in the newspapers too - The Guardian calls it "Impressive, bold in ambition and fluid - like Robert Lepage on a teeny budget" and The Times talks about the way "Lives and cultures collide — sometimes violently — in this kaleidoscopic drama.... intersecting stories set against a backdrop of hectic, often striking visuals."

As sometimes happens, some of the most illuminating comments are actually ones which are intended negatively. The broadsheet critics are clearly coming from a tradition of lit.crit., and are looking for well-made plays with psychological, naturalistic solutions. Which isn't quite what we do! In The Times, Sam Marlowe says that "The characters are manipulated by the multi strand plot, like lifeless puppets." She doesn't mean it as a compliment - but it's exactly right. Indeed, at times we clearly show the characters as puppets - as in this photo of Hui! The point is that people are not always autonomous individuals in control of their own destiny, as western thought would like us to believe. They are very much at the mercy of history, of culture, of structures. In the Asian theatre, actors are always manipulated in some way - by puppetry, by masks, by the form. In drawing off these traditions, we're finding a more radical way of looking at the world.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Press Night tonight

The show has now had two previews, and tonight we let in the journalists, and invite our guests. It's a pretty important moment for the company, and I have to confess I feel more than slightly nervous!

To keep me centred, I've answered a few more questions from the marketing people in Shanghai. Here they are!

1. The play is dramatizes a series of disasters; Tsunami, Storm, abandoned baby. Is there a theme of doom and gloom to the play?

Anything but, actually! Something I've found whenever I've travelled to places where terrible things have happened, is that people are incredibly resilient. Where you expect to see "doom and gloom" you actually get vitality, humour, sexiness, and energy.

When we were first working on the play in Shanghai, we noticed that the western people often expected the Asians to have tragic tales to tell - and the Asian people responded by telling them. But we also noticed that the context was lively, buoyant and colourful. So we wanted to overturn the westerners' idea of a doom-laden East.

This is a play about what happens in the aftermath of tragedy - so of course it acknowledges the tragedies, but it also deals with the comedy and the energy that can follow.

How will your new play explore gender relationships as the others did?

The play has a number characters who are involved in relationships with people of the same sex - and the opposite sex. In this play, sexuality is a very fluid thing - people aren't tied down to a specific way of being. I think that we live in a time where lots of the old-fashioned divisions into East and West, male and female, gay and straight and so on don't really make sense. It's much less clear cut than people used to think.

It seems that political interest has filtered through to cultural interest in your plays, especially with China and India. Has the global economic shift towards the two countries played a big role in your new play?

Yes! Our theatre is very much a theatre for the globalised world. It's about the way in which people live now that we're all so mingled together, and the differences that this makes to our dealings with one another. The political and social changes in Asia are some of the most important facts in the world today. It's changing everything, and as artists we have to respond to that.

How do the cultures intermingle in the new play? united through crisis?

I'm not sure that they are united through crisis. I don't think the world has got to that stage yet - I wish it had. I think what happens in the play is actually what happened in our devising process - that people form very different backgrounds, with a range of different languages, are forced by the situation they are in to find ways of making contact. However temporarily.

Does the play have a moral ending, teach us anything about the world today? Will we be 're-orientated' as such?

I don't think it has a moral in a strict sense - but I do think it forces people to reconsider their identity - just as the characters do.

What influences does the play follow? historical, traditions, news coverage?

There are so many! The recent histories, of course. Yakshagana, Yueju, Strindberg, news media, rock videos, experimental film....

7. What sort of themes to the play are there, morally/culturally?

It's very much a play about how we can learn to live together. On one level, we've had to do that as a company, working together with no single common language, in order to create the piece. Our little room has been a laboratory for the way the world could work. It's been about exploring ways of communicating, ways of being in your own culture and retaining your identity at the same time as living in a globalised multicultural space. And, as with all devised theatre, the process by which it is made is reflected in its meaning. The play has an extraordinary diversity of characters - all those nationalities, different ages, different sexualities, different political standpoints, rich and poor - and they struggle to survive when they are thrown together. Hence the title. People have to Re_orient themselves, to change, if they are to co-exist.

8. How will Re-orientations mix the contemporary with the old world?

History shapes us and is with us all the time. Perhaps especially in a society which is changing as rapidly as China, you can only really make sense of the present in terms of the past. So the play has a very strong sense of the presence of ghosts - either of close personal relationships or of wider histories. And these ghosts are reflected in the use we make of older cultural forms, like Beijing opera, Yueju and Yakshagana, and even Strindberg's Miss Julie. Our modern theatre only makes sense as something emerging from a broad range of living global traditions.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Questions from Shanghai

We're in the last week of our rehearsals. It's a fascinating process, and I only wish there was time to blog it properly. Come along to Soho Theatre next week, and you'll see what I've been on about for two years!

Meantime - here's a little Q&A I did for the Shanghai publicity people:

1. What was your purpose in setting up Border Crossings?

Border Crossings is an attempt to make theatre about what it feels like to be alive in the current moment, when the world is so much more integrated than ever before. We wanted to set up a company which allowed different cultures to speak to each other, directly and equally, and which explored the ways in which theatre could bring about cross-cultural dialogues and exchanges.

2. What would you like to express through the series of Orientations plays?

These plays came about through an interest in traditional Asian performance forms, and particularly the forms where men play women and women play men. It was interesting to see how this might reflect some of the changes going on in gender relationships around the world. The plays have moved on a lot from that start point - but they are still about the many different forms of human love, and about the ways in which sexual relationships and cultural relationships overlap.

3. What does Re-Orientations talk about?

This is a play about the aftermath of catastrophe. All the main characters are dealing with some sort of loss. Julian and Marie are dealing with the loss of their daughter, and Song that of her lover. Tsrui-hua and Velu have also lost children. I suppose it's to do with the sense that we may have lost our future, and that many aspects of our past are difficult to face. It's about asking how we can move forward in the 21st century.

4. What's the speciality of the production Re-Orientations?

I think audiences will be very struck by the way we use lots of different languages on stage - Chinese, English, Swedish, Kannada... This is what the world is like now, of course - just walk down Nanjing Lu and you'll hear many languages spoken - but it's rare for the theatre to take this on, and still tell a story in a way that a whole range of audiences can understand. We also use lots of different theatrical languages - naturalism, film, yeuju, yakshagana, ballet, modern dance, projected textÉ. We wanted to come at the story from as many different angles as we could. I should add that the whole play has been made by the actors: there is no writer as such and no pre-existing script. We didn't know what the story would be before we started to work on stage.

5. Why did you choose Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre as your partner?

SDAC was the only company I knew of in China which had the artistic vision and the capacity to be our partner organisation. I'd got to know the company's work over the course of several visits to Shanghai, and in particular Nick Yu's desire to engage in cultural dialogue, and to work in modern and innovative, experimental ways. When we found the three actors who are involved, we realised just what an exciting journey this would be.