Monday, June 03, 2013
Beirut - Day 1
Brian Woolland and I arrived in Beirut last night, just as the Syrian conflict spread over into Lebanese territory. We're here for a week, thanks to the British Council, to start work with Zoukak - a very exciting theatre company in the city. I met Maya Zbib, one of their core members, a while ago when we were on a panel about international work at CSSD - and it turned out that she was being mentored by Peter under the Rolex scheme. Many a connection.... Brian and I had been discussing an idea for a new play with Middle Eastern collaborators for some time, so it's fantastic that we've finally got an opportunity to develop it, and ACE has given Brian a grant to write it too.
So this isn't quite like most of the development processes we've undertaken in the last few years, in that this time there is somebody in the room who will be the author of the play, and who has strong ideas about what it may turn out to be. So it's not a devising process as such. On the other hand, Brian is very aware that cross-cultural work is not about a single voice but about multiple viewpoints, and that real drama about global issues can only be generated out of different energies between people from distinct backgrounds.
Today has already proved the point. Brian and I have been suggesting to the actors various scenarios and episodes, drawn from mythology, which might be dramatised. What is fascinating is the way in which these become the way in to very immediate concerns in this region. The figure of Delusion becomes a way into a fundamentalist Islamist rant for one group; while for another it generates a scene about a fatwa which allows jihadists to have sex with young girls as a 'necessary way of dealing with their violent male energy' - apparently this is happening in Syria at the moment. The work is not only exciting in terms of content, but also theatrically vital - not least because of the ease with which Lebanese actors are able to shift between Arabic, English and French. The Arabic here is very muscular - softer than in Egypt, but very energised. It makes for very intense drama.
And so, of course, does the city. Heavily armed soldiers everywhere. Military checkpoints. And buildings pock-marked by the bullets of the civil war.