Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Flute Theatre's Tempest
A couple of weeks ago, I'd arranged to go and hear my friend Jay Griffiths talk about Shakespeare and Manic Depression.  The day before, we had no fewer than three large funding applications turned down.  Had we got them all, the company would have been in very good shape for the next three years.  As it is - we are, as ever, looking for the next penny.  Usually I'm fairly sanguine about such things - we all know that the arts aren't at the top of many agendas these days, and that the few enlightened places with money to give are under siege from hopeful applicants.  But three in one day felt a bit personal.

I hadn't seen Jay for some time - certainly not since her new book came out.  Tristimania is subtitled A Diary of Manic Depression.  It's a tough read, though ultimately a very empowering one - especially tough if you know the author.  She is blindingly honest about a deeply traumatic year.  I knew that when I next saw her, I would have some sharing to do.  And, that night, I just didn't feel up to it.  I bottled out of an event about depression - because I was depressed.  Oh the irony.

Of course, what depressed me wasn't really to do with me.  It was to do with a wider social and political climate.  To begin with, I had wondered if Jay's book was going to subscribe to the view that depression is located in the depressed person - it is certainly very personal, and she does speak about a genetic predisposition (which I would not dispute as a factor).  But, as she's shown in her earlier books, Jay is a very perceptive critic of contemporary global cultures - and Tristimania is ultimately an indictment of a society that wastes its creative people in this way. "Illness" she writes "is the only category which our culture allows us in this age of literalism, of numbering and of unwonder."

Think about that when you next see somebody who is "mentally ill".  Think about it when somebody is depressed.  Think about it when you next meet an autistic person.

I went to a performance of The Tempest for autistic children, presented by Flute Theatre, under the direction of the extraordinary Kelly Hunter.  If the world is a disabling space for the creative spirit, then this was an enabling space for people perceived to be without creativity.  By generating an atmosphere of inclusive openness, based on the common heartbeat that runs through the text, this production opened the complex territories of language and expression to the excluded.  It invited them to share in moments that were ripe with meaning precisely because of who was sharing them.  Near the beginning, there was an assertion of their right to be present in social space - "This island's mine!"  The learning of language became a beautiful dialogue of balletic hand movement.   Social adjustment and personal space were questioned through the way Caliban's interaction with Miranda was perceived.  And so on. It was not only a joy to behold the children being freed into movement, language and liveliness - it also revealed new depths in the Shakespearean text - depths both of meaning and of music.

At the end, as aspects of Ariel, each child in turn held the hands of Prospero and was spun then released in the performing circle.  "Be free", he said.  "Be free".

Monday, August 01, 2016

Sellars on Brexit

Peter Sellars
In the wake of Brexit, the most important agenda that looms before the United Kingdom is to crawl back into its snail shell as quickly and completely as possible.  Links with the outside world are unnecessary and risk diluting the purity of British culture.  I am alarmed to note that for some inexplicable reason, Border Crossings continues to function as an organization with a mission to build bridges across cultures, theatrical traditions and contemporary problems.  They seem to be pursuing this mission with a single-minded devotion, developing work that is artistically sophisticated and potentially high-impact.  I am greatly distressed at the deluded ideals of these sorry people.  With a small shake of the head I can only wish them well on their hopeless quest.

— Peter Sellars