Monday, July 02, 2012

Ganesh, the Swastika, and the question of disability

Back in February, I wrote a post about Back to Back's production Ganesh versus the Third Reich, which had been showcased at APAM.  I said then how important I thought it was - and I'd only seen half an hour's worth of the material.  Now I've seen the whole thing, and it is truly extraordinary.

There are two plays at work in this performance.  One of them is the story of Ganesh making a journey to Germany in an attempt to recover the swastika.  This story alone is complex enough, with beautiful stage imagery, multiple languages (there's a surprising amount of German), Hitler and Mengele, and a growing bond between the Hindu god and a fleeing Jew with "mental retardation".  The other half of the piece deals with the making of this piece, and shows the debates between the core actors in the company, who are perceived to have learning disabilities, and their (non-disabled) guest collaborator.  The bravery of the company in sharing this material is remarkable - particularly when it comes to demonstrating in a very visceral way the eruption of frustration which can occur in the intensity of collaborative work and the privacy of the rehearsal room.  The games with the language of theatre create a sense that these scenes are a fiction derived from fact ("When we perform, there will be an audience in these seats" / "There is an audience").  When that fiction topples over into violence, and the non-disabled actor walks out on his colleagues, the dividing lines feel horribly narrow, and the attitudes of the audience are implicated.  What's more, because the backstage scenes constantly elide into the Nazi scenes, you are left with a sense that the deep prejudices of fascism are dangerously close to the assumptions made in our own society.  

It's incredibly upsetting.  It is also very funny.  And it is work of incredible intellectual insight and sophistication.  By people who are usually regarded as having very little ability in that area.  How wrong we always are when we seek to label.

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