Monday, April 30, 2012

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

It was wonderful to see this play on Saturday night.  For one thing, I had known the text and its reputation for years, but never actually caught a performance, in spite of chances at the Almeida and Stratford East.  Now it's got a production at the National, and I finally got to see that it's every bit as good as I suspected.  And then some.  The play was written in 1958, only two years after Look Back in Anger - but its portrayal of life in the desperate poverty of Trinidad certainly shows up British plays from the time for the bourgeois whinges they were.  Errol John's characters are struggling to hold their lives together - and have their own idiosyncratic ways of doing so, from the never-ending graft of Sophia, to the opportunistic thieving of Charlie and Mavis selling her body to any passing American sailor.  You can understand why Ephraim wants to leave - and you so want him not to, because he'll only leave more havoc in his wake.

The production is fabulous - tons of local detail, reminding us of Mauritius (Nisha recognised exactly the cookery technique being used by Sophia).  The acting is wonderful - with Martina Laird incredible as the tough and witty Sophia.  And it was great to see my old friend Jude Akuwudike as Charley - here they both are in the picture.  Jude and I acted together in our student days - which seem rather a long time ago now!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Maori Troilus and Cressida

I was at the Globe last night to see the second and last London performance of Troilus and Cressida in Te Reo Maori, as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.  I've refracted Shakespeare through the prism of "other" cultures quite a few times myself over the years, from the Indian Tempest to the Native American Dream, via the Mauritian Scottish tragedy...  so the whole undertaking has a lot of resonance for me - and this Maori show is particularly exciting, given our ongoing work with the London community, and my recent trip to New Zealand for Origins.

The play fits very readily into a traditional Maori context, with Greeks and Trojans as warring tribes, and a great deal of macho display, ritualised combat and haka war chants.  What's particularly exciting about the coincidence of this with Shakespeare is the way it allows for an honest rendering of heightened text, with even private moments rendered into rhetoric and accompanied by gestural language.  Like Mnouchkine's Asian-influenced Shakespeare, the production provides a way into a world removed from our own, which by its strangeness serves to comment on our own.  

It was also a great social occasion for our friends at Ngati Ranana.  At the curtain call, the haka from the stage was answered by an incredibly vigorous one from the Globe's Pit, which suddenly became a totally vibrant part of the performance.  The direct communication between actors and audience was very Shakespearean - as so often, performers from a non-naturalistic tradition revitalised the theatre space, and their audience responded in kind.  

Monday, April 09, 2012

After the workshop

The workshop came to an end last week, with a sharing session for the SDAC management, and a few other invited guests.  We deliberately called it a "sharing" rather than a "showing", as we really didn't feel we had got to a point where anything was in a state to be "shown" to an "audience" - although we were definitely in a place where it was helpful to share our work with interested parties, and get their responses.

Happily, the responses were really excited.  A lot of the work we shared involved the use of technology - not because the show is necessarily going to be technology-heavy, but because those are the scenes around which we've hung the structure of the play as it's evolved so far.  We're aware of the need for more naturalistic scenes around them, and have made versions of some of them which we have since jettisoned - but they don't yet exist in a version which makes sense for the final play.  As a result, I felt the sharing was perhaps a bit imbalanced, but nobody else seemed to think that - and, very pleasingly, there was a strong sense that our approach was allowing technology to interact with live performance in a way that lifted the human story and made sense of how it operated, rather than swamping it (always the danger with new media in theatre).  The scenes which attracted the most comment were the ones which involved interaction between actors and technology to do something totally new - as I guess you'd expect.  Very pleasingly, the multi-lingualism of the piece drew no comments at all: it just seemed natural, and everybody understood as much as they needed to.

Liu Liang, the Artistic Director of SDAC, was very excited by the potential of what we've got.  He told me that the piece was much more developed and inspiring than Re-Orientations had been at the same stage.  I think he's probably right: the previous piece was apparently more polished in the "showing", but in fact very few of the characters had interesting psychological journeys in the way they do for the new play, and I ended up cutting vast swathes of the material we had shown.  This time, the sense was one of building on what had been achieved so far, rather than re-thinking anything fundamental.  Nick Yu, who is a wonderful dramaturgical adviser, suggested that we create a scene for Tony and Hui's characters "where language is not the problem".  This is spot on - we need to deepen the idea of failure in communication, so that it becomes about something very deep in the contemporary condition, way beyond the banalities of language, culture, gender and class.  

Feels like we are on the way. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Ningbo and after

The public workshop with the students in Ningbo was really helpful to us - not least because it showed us some aspects of the play that weren't really hanging together.  We'd been a bit wary of the fact that the play is set in the business world, and opted to make the work-related story about the making of an advertisement, because we felt closer to that world. But the result was that the cultural conflicts we tried to introduce felt forced and artificial - Chinese advertising actually works in a very similar way to Western advertising - it's just that the cultural tropes employed are specific and local - as they would be anywhere in the world.  So there's not enough to hang drama on.  Good to find this out at such an early stage - and good to be pushed back towards the alien world of high finance, which is really an altogether more meaty prospect at the current moment.  We've been looking at characters caught up in a web of inter-personal connections - and, of course, they are also caught up in the complexities of the financial system.  The complexity actually is the point.  I send out some emails to various contacts who know a bit about Sino-British financial relations.  Very pleased to see that they are willing to have their brains picked.  I don't think this strand of the play is something we can create through improvisation during the current workshop - we need to put it on ice and collaborate on a writing process after the research work has been done more fully.  We know the function of the scenes in terms of the personal stories we want to tell - now we need to bring in another level.

Yesterday was spent filming some scenes which we're planning to project in the final production.  We brought in two young actors - Tie Zheng and Zhang Ying - to play younger versions of Li and Hui's characters.  Ying even looks rather like a younger version of Hui, and she has the same ease of access to her emotions - the parting scene is beautiful and very moving.  Great to bring some younger people into this process, especially after the very fruitful encounter with the students in Ningbo.  Roshni Mooneeram, our former board member who now teaches there, tells me that they always seem to be "unlocked" by our drama workshops there.  That, of course, is what theatre is for.....