Participants on the stage of the Cartoucherie in July
In my post looking back on 2020, I speculated that our work (and perhaps the whole form of theatre) would not simply go back to the way it had been prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but would continue that year's exploration of new forms more suited to our rapidly changing world. What I had not expected then was that 2021 would pass without us being able to present any actual 'theatre' at all - or that I would find myself at the end of this year putting the very word 'theatre' into inverted commas. The form itself seems questionable, unstable. Some companies have, of course, been able to perform in 2021, but they have done so under constant threat of closure, and they have usually been able to do so because they were building-based. For us, there remains very little point trying to plan a production in a conventional performance space, while access to those spaces remains so unpredictable. And so we continue the process of enquiry begun last year, examining how our work can and should evolve in the capricious context of our troubled times. This isn't just about the pandemic, either. Covid has brought into sharper focus two major issues which were already informing our art, and which are now emerging as its core themes. One of these is the existential threat posed to the planet by climate change. The other is the ongoing prevalence of colonial structures, both politically and culturally, which stand in the way of equity, justice and democracy. For the foreseeable future, our work will centre on these three themes:
- Climate Change
- Seun Shote passed away last March, aged only 47. He was an extraordinary actor and a very warm human being, whose performance as Ato in THE DILEMMA OF A GHOST combined great humour with a compassionate understanding of what it means to be caught between worlds.
- David Kerr, who died in the autumn, was from the same part of Coventry where I spent my childhood, but lived most of his adult life in sub-Saharan Africa, where he taught at the Universities of Malawi and Botswana. He and his wife Adela were my hosts on a wonderful trip to Gabaronne, where I led a workshop with local performers. We became very close very quickly: he was full of wise and modest counsel.
- Alaknanda Samarth died on 6th December. For almost a quarter of a century, she had been one of my most important interlocutors in the exploration of theatre and the intercultural. It was Alak who introduced me to Rustom Bharucha, and Rustom has written a very fine obituary for her. Although we were constantly looking for something we might work on together, it only finally happened in 2020, as a response to lockdown. Alak's recording of Artaud's THEATRE AND THE PLAGUE as a Border Crossings podcast now serves as a sort of memorial, I suppose - emphatically her, emphatically of its moment, brutal in its demands and searing in its spirituality. A few nights ago, I was privileged to share it with a group of her friends and colleagues from India as a tribute. We gathered - as so often these days - on Zoom. We listened to her voice speaking this unique text for 45 minutes. And then we sat in silence - because sometimes that is all you can do.