Wednesday, December 31, 2014


This Flesh is Mine.  Photo: Richard Davenport
It's been the year that the blog posts got fewer but longer.  Less to do with simply reporting what we've been doing - I guess Facebook and (even more) Twitter have well and truly usurped that function - more to do with commentary, discussion, and engaging in controversies.  And there have certainly been plenty of those.  I suppose it's to be expected, as we began our period of engagement with the Middle East, producing Brian Woolland's wonderful This Flesh is Mine in collaboration with Ashtar Theatre in Palestine.  It's a production of which we are hugely proud, and marks the first in a series of projects around cultural dialogue with this most inspiring and battle-scarred area of the globe.  As the year ends, we are planning its revival, as well as two new productions related to the region, and continuing our community work with Middle Eastern communities and refugees in the UK.  Our community work has been made possible through ongoing support from the Lloyds Bank Foundation - huge thanks to them for allocating funds below the radar, where they don't get publicity but they really do help to change lives for the better.

As part of this engagement in global debates, we've also seen an exciting new development in the Laboratory, with the first of our public conversations around the key issues around our work.  Rustom Bharucha's evening around Terror and Performance was extraordinary and provocative - with lots of stimulation for ways of moving forward our ideas.  In the new year, there will be announcements of further discussions - I can promise fireworks.

It's also been an important year for our work with indigenous cultures.  Origins being a biennial festival had a year off in 2014, but there had to be a lot of planning for 2015, with some really important new partnerships being negotiated.  I'm not allowed to reveal all the plans just yet - but I can offer the teasers that there will be at least one partner of national standing involved, an even greater diversity of countries and art forms represented, and a charismatic figure of global standing to give the Origins Lecture!  So watch this space....

For the last few years, I've used the last post of the year to survey cultural developments and events that I've found particularly exciting.  This year hasn't been the most exciting - perhaps not surprising, given the immense strain on the sector.  There's been a lot of playing safe - and even some of the more radical work has seemed less exciting in terms of content, more in terms of style and technical prowess.  As so often, artists from overseas are showing us what we should be doing.  In one case, Exhibit B, I even had to go overseas to find out, because the show was closed in London in response to protests.  What do we think we are playing at?  This was the most moving piece of theatre I saw all year.  I also loved John Adams' new opera The Gospel According to the Other Mary, stunningly staged by our fabulous Patron Peter Sellars; David Grieg's The Events; and two LIFT shows - Young Jean Lee's The Shipment and the Chilean production The Year I was Born.

Also heart-wrenching was the Belvoir's extraordinary re-imagining of The Wild Duck at the Barbican - I really never thought I would be calling that play an emotional highlight!  Australia also contributed my best film of the year - Charlie's Country at LFF - and two terrific novels.  Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest is both a touching study of encroaching dementia and a crime thriller - you really don't know what's going to happen next.  Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (not yet published here but on Kindle) confirms her as a rich and poetic, authentically Aboriginal voice.  The novel is at once political, lyrical, futuristic and rooted in deep, dreaming time.

Another Australian novel won the Booker - but only just.  I loved Ali Smith's How to be Both, which was pipped at the post.  I read Eyes before Camera, and it felt satisfying that way round, with the emotional climax of the end also making sense of the opening.  I'd love to know what it’s like to unravel it the opposite way...  but of course, I'll never get the chance.  You don't quite get to be both.

Happy New Year, everybody.

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