Tuesday, January 03, 2017


When Nobody Returns - Andrew French as Odysseus with Bayan Shbib as Calypso
Well - that was quite a year.  And I don't mean because lots of celebrities died.  Actually, I suspect that from now on, lots of celebrities will die every year - popular culture in its current form dates from the 60s and 70s, so, as the Americans say, do the math.  But perhaps that does make this a suitable moment to question the huge amounts of emotional energy that are now devoted to such people - famous for looks, quirky soundbites and private lives led all too publicly.  As George Monbiot argued recently, the Trump election is the logical outcome of this.  And it's making 2017 look daunting to say the least.

2016 was also, of course, the year of the referendum.  It was NOT the year of Brexit - the actual leaving of the EU - which may still be some way off...  Here's hoping.  Even so, it's already proving impossible to attract European partners to work with UK-based organisations on intercultural projects, either in the arts or in education.  This is going to make the future challenging for us at Border Crossings, where international collaboration is central to our mission, and where the structures of the EU have been hugely beneficial.  For the time being, we are continuing to run our intercultural theatre courses, which have to date had a European emphasis - but in future we'll be looking to engage more participants from the UK and the wider world.  This summer's course actually started on June 24th - the very day the referendum result was announced.  It felt difficult, to say the least, to welcome our European guests to London.

One of the key strands of our work during the year has been to address the European question of the refugee crisis.  Lucy has been working very directly with a number of refugee groups throughout the year, particularly unaccompanied minors and women - while I've been speaking about the role of culture in addressing the crisis at events in Karlsr├╝he, Stockholm and Brussels, including a significant contribution to the EU's Voices of Culture report on the question.  People often accuse the EU of being undemocratic - but I've never encountered genuine consultation and dialogue like this at a national level.  So we also have to re-think how Border Crossings can continue to have an active political voice in the aftermath of Brexit - it's really crucial that we maintain this in some way, as the interplay between theatre and policy is surely key to what we are about.  Sabine Frank, the former Secretary-General of the Platform for Intercultural Europe, says as much in our 21st birthday publication, 21 FACES OF BORDER CROSSINGS.

While we were working with refugees and talking about the relationship between culture and refugees, we were also making theatre that explored the contemporary Middle East and the aftermath of war.  Brian Woolland's new play WHEN NOBODY RETURNS was a sequel to THIS FLESH IS MINE, and we presented them together as a season with our Palestinian co-producer ASHTAR and our old friends at CSSD.  The plays were accompanied by Palestinian food, a series of talks on related themes, a Middle Eastern poetry event, and a reading of a new play by Tariq Jordan.  The whole programme has a coherence, and, as the lady from the Arts Council said to me on the phone just before Christmas - "This is exactly the sort of work we need after the year we've just had".

2016 was also the year we made our first documentary film:  HIDDEN HISTORIES: DISCOVERING INDIGENOUS LONDON had several acclaimed screenings, particularly one at the Houses of Parliament.  We were, of course, thrilled when the narrator, Mark Rylance, was knighted in the New Year's Honours List!  And if all that wasn't enough - we also rebranded the organisation to mark its 21st birthday, with a lovely new design by Kind Studio and a beautiful new website from Future Design.  We also launched the 21 Club for our major donors - please do consider becoming a part of this: with the cuts to arts funding and the loss of European sources, we are going to be ever more reliant on our donors to support this crucial work.

At the end of the year, I usually write a bit about other cultural productions and events that have particularly excited me.  It's very striking that almost all the great theatre I've seen has been in some sense intercultural or from overseas: we SO need to keep our links with the world if we are going to be a dynamic and energised society...   2016 was the year of Peter Brook's Battlefield and Robert Lepage's renewed Needles and Opium, of Lola Arias' Minefield and Lies Pauwels' extraordinary The Hamilton Complex- all of them international productions in London.  It was also the year of the Young Vic's Yerma - adapted and directed by Australian Simon Stone - and the remarkable Thebes Land from our friends CASA at the Arcola - a play from Uruguay.  Even the finest homegrown work - Simon McBurney's The Encounter and Katie Mitchell's stunning version of Sarah Kane's Cleansed - were international in outlook and European in style and sensibility: these are two British directors who work across the continent.  And it shows.

I'm writing this on the day our Ambassador to the EU tendered his resignation.  There's a rocky ride ahead - but Happy New Year, everybody.