Monday, August 04, 2014

Terror and Performance

On Friday night, Border Crossings Laboratory hosted Terror and Performance: An evening with Rustom Bharucha, in response to Rustom's new book with the same title.  Rustom has been important to the company for some time as a sounding board for a lot of dramaturgical ideas, and a powerful critical voice - we've corresponded during the gestation of most of our projects since about 2004.  But this was only the second time we'd been able to involve Rustom overtly and actively in our work - the first being his chapter in our book on Theatre and Slavery (sadly out of print at the moment). 

The great thing about Rustom is that, as well as being a brilliant academic and critical thinker, he is also an active theatre-maker, a director and dramaturg, who understands the huge political themes with which he engages as they relate to the creation and reception of performance.  So, as well as outlining the themes of his book, we were able to discuss them in relation to what we've been doing as an organisation, and how we and other theatre-makers can respond to the atmosphere of terror that so pervades our lives today.  We related his opening chapter (on the way 9/11 changed perceptions of a production) to our own recent experiences in Palestine and their relationship to the current horror in Gaza.  His second chapter, on literal border crossings, became the start point for discussion of the company name, and the political issues around border controls that we have recently encountered.  The third chapter, on Truth and Reconciliation processes, related fascinatingly to much of what we did in the last Origins Festival, particularly in relation to indigenous processes of reconciliation, and the emphasis on the need for reparation of some kind. 

That all took two hours - with some fantastic audience interaction thrown in - so we didn't get round to the final chapter of the book, which deals with Gandhi and non-violence.  It's a shame, because I had hoped to ask Rustom about the move into religious language here.  He not only quotes Gandhi and uses him as a theoretical frame to engage with issues around how non-violence can be performed in the context of terror - he also makes use of Aurobindo and Krishnamurti.  It's as if he finds the cold, logical language of performance theory impossible for the moral engagement - which is ultimately an emotional engagement - that is required.  I'm reminded of the emotional overspill that seems to be happening in journalism in response to Gaza - for example Jon Snow, or the thrilling column Giles Fraser wrote in Saturday's Guardian.  The language of theory needs to be expanded in order to embrace the spiritual heart that demands justice and common humanity.  Otherwise you end up with the unbelievable coldness that greeted Rustom last week at an academic conference, where a theorist actually asked him why he got so bothered about the killing of children.  I mean, please....

The last chapter of Rustom's book also touches on the Breivik incident, which we had also addressed in Origins through the wonderful film Biekka Fabmu.  On Thursday, I had been at the Young Vic to see The Events - also a response to Breivik, and to my mind the best theatrical response I've so far seen to terror in its multifarious contemporary forms. 

The Events
The central character, Claire, is a priest (a lesbian priest leading a diverse urban congregation - so the embodiment of the liberal multicultural modernity loathed by the radical right) whose choir were the victims of a crazed attack.  The choir is onstage throughout, brilliantly represented by a real amateur choir, who are clearly not entirely familiar with the play and are so, quite literally, caught up in "events", and are rightly bemused as things unfold around them.  The gunman ("The Boy") also plays all the other roles, including a right-wing politician, a therapist, and Claire's partner.  On one level, this gives a powerful sense of how Claire finds it impossible to move beyond the shooting - quite literally seeing the gunman everywhere.  On another level, it suggests how her constant questioning of the gunman, herself and of humanity, asking why he did it - mistakes the real issue.  The warped mind of one individual is not really what matters in the contemporary climate of terror.  What finally matters is the wider social and political context within which such events occur, and through which responses are made.  As playwright David Greig put it in a Telegraph interview:  “you have to find a way to go beyond understanding. You have to go, ‘I need something else. I need acceptance, or something'....  it’s about communities, people, religion – about transcendent things, which drama is very good at.”

This is also the register of language that Rustom is moving towards at the end of his wonderful book. 

No comments: