Friday, 18 September 2009

power and censorship

I can't but notice the way power structures are hungry for
more power, more trampling on of human, intellectual, artistic rights.
Unforgivable mistakes by the police lead to murder of innocents
(de Menezes in London);
fear of 'offending' the complaining citizens lead to censorship
(Mapplethorpe in Scotland); immigrants are being treated
like criminals (Mytilene, Greece) etc.

I just saw Stockwell, a verbatim piece of theatre,
at the Tricycle, based on the murder of De Menezes,
the Brazilian electrician mistaken for
terrorist and shot point blank in the head 9
times in an underground carriage, on 21st July 2005.
Anyone can be mistaken for terrorist...

It was a lucky coincidence that the radical barrister
Michael Mansfield who represented the De
Menezes family in the trial, was there for a Q & A after the show.
I had followed the case closely, fascinated by the whole theatre
of deception, denial, distortion of the truth staged by the police but
also the resistance and integrity shown by the De Menezes family.
Still I didn't know that there were 3 occassions when the police
(Surveillance Team, Firearms Team and New Scotland Yard)
could have arrested De Menezes from the time he left his
flat in Herne Hill to the time he went down Stockwell station
(a half an hour journey)... Cold-blooded assasination was preferable...

Chillingly, shortly before the incident, the then Chief
of Metropolitan Police asked the Prime Minister:
Has the time come when we can shoot on sight?

It was interesting to hear the responses by
the audience and reflect on the social relevance
of contemporary theatre. The discussion
was totally political, it was all about the content,
nothing about the form of the play.

As a playwright I felt the desire to ask questions about the process
of writing, choices made in the editing of the transcripts, theatricality
of the production etc but I remained silent, listening with fascination
to the issues in the case...Verbatim theatre must have that kind of effect.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The beauty of silence

It took a killer bug to make me keep still for a few days.
It took a killer bug to make me silent for a few days.
While this bug is around and lots of people have it,
I couldn't but wonder about the metaphor of
not being able to speak.
The voice closing down as if it refused to engage
with the world anymore, as if it wanted,
it needed silence to force some kind of reflection on me,
to stop the relentless action
or should I say reaction to recent events.
You hurt? Act, act, act. This often works. Not this time.
The body naturally reacted. The body naturally took
over and stopped the madness.
The body screamed: slow down and think!
I did. The past became the present,
the present felt clear and the future full of possibilities.
I thought about love and hate, about dynamics,
about passion, about dominance and submission,
about reality and delusion and how hard
it can sometimes be to tell one from the other.
I came to a crystal clear decision.
Time will tell if it's the right one.

I thought about how a square box can never fit into a circle,
something simple, something basic, something that needs to be
accepted. No matter how close I get to the centre,
my take on reality will remain that of the outsider.
That's what shaped me initially but now, all these years later,
it's a rational position to take
given the demolishing nature of the mainstream.

And with the thoughts and feelings and keeping still and just being,
action inevitably arose - organically this time
rather than manically. Ideas for my new play morphed into characters
and scenes - on the page.
Work and play seemed so close to each other.
I picked up my bass guitar again for the first time
in months and let my fingers dance on those strings.
Pure soul medicine!

I almost feel like saying 'thank you' bug!!!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

the theatre around me right now

I saw three plays recently that made me think about the state of theatre right now.

Last night it was Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill at the Almeida.
My friend Cherry had spotted it and booked it for us. My initial response when she first suggested it was: oh no, this will be too 'seventies' but ok let's check it out to see how relevant it still is. The play explores issues of gender, sexuality and race in one white English family. The first act takes place in Victorian England of the colonies and the second act takes place in late seventies London. The characters though have only aged by 25 years. Churchill stipulates in the character descriptions that certain male parts are played by women and vice versa - a favourite of its time. That was one element I was curious to see how it would travel through time, along with the play's sexual politics. And they did. Because what Churchil wanted to show - the constructedness of gender and even race - is still valid today. Women still play at being women, men still play at being men, whites play at being white whenever privileges are at stake, blacks play at being black or white depending on their politics or circumstances. The play was a delight to watch. I haven't enjoyed myself so much in the theatre and be mentally stimulated at the same time for a while. The inventiveness, wit, humour, politics, playful language, exuberance , 'bigness' and pure theatricality of the piece took me high.

Caryl Churchil is a playwright I take my hat off to. She is inspirational. She is bold, inventive, irreverent, intellectual, political. And while, on the whole I like her recent, absurdist work more than her earlier one (e.g. Far Away is one of my top faves) this early piece gave me a night of sheer pleasure.

Seeing Being Norwegian by David Greig at the Shunt Vaults on Wednesday was a totally different experience. Like my friend Tessie said - the problem with having something on at the Shunt Vaults is that the venue is always going to be more interesting than the show. And it certainly was in this case. If you haven't been, go! The entrance is just opposite London Bridge station exit. You enter a world of caves, darkness, arches, candlelight, unexpected spaces, promises of discovering a hidden world...The theatre event was part of a season by Paines Plough called 'A play, a pie, a pint' for a tenner. You are offered a pieminister pie (delicious) and a choice of beers, wine, non-alcoholic drinks before the show. A great idea. The venue itself was at the very end of Shunt V., up some narrow stairs and into a tiny attic with low ceiling. That was what surrounded the play. What of the play itself? A very intimate, very moving, thoughtful affair. Two outsiders meet one night and after misunderstandings reach a moment of beauty. This is it. Touching yes, human yes. Well observed? Absolutely. But oh, so so so very small. Is this a bad thing? No, I like intimate theatre and D. Greig is a writer of integrity. But did it offer any new insights? No. Was it intending to? Perhaps not. Did it capture beautifully the fundamental human need to connect, love, share? With needle precision. Did it make me think, did it have an impact on me? No.

Watching Pure Gold by Michael Bhim at Soho theatre the week before was the play that really made me question the theatre establishment. I had met Michael a couple of times as he is a graduate of the University of Greenwich, where I teach part-time. Both times we spoke about theatre, about possibilities, about the need to explore, expand, experiment. He struck me as a very intelligent, sharp young man who believes in theatre and its potential to make a difference. The last time we spoke was in July, at the launch of BRAND LITERARY MAGAZINE, which I edit and which published his beautifully ironic monologue Rocket Man. In that conversation Michael spoke of his desire to explore expressionism. I was excited. I was really looking forward to seeing his first production, Pure Gold. The play explores a man's frustrations at racial prejudice, missed opportunities, family conflicts and moral dilemma of: mundane wage-earning or exciting but illegal and lucrative work? Did I remain excited after the show? Not really but I remained convinced of Michael's talent and potential. What had happened? The man I had spoken to was evident in the language of the play, which absolutely danced. He was also there in the humanity of the play, its humour, unexpected turns of thought, astute observations and two secondary characters who brought the stage alive whenever they appeared. Otherwise I felt the play was dying to fly but remained stubbornly stuck in domestic naturalism and its limitations. Was that the author's intention or was he pushed in that direction by the theatre establishment?

I do feel there is a strong tendency culturally to reduce, diminish, flaten things out. The stated aim by the powers that be is 'accessibility' but it is actually an insulting and patronizing policy.
I wonder how many playwrights feel restricted by this invisible iron hand that chokes experimentation, complexity, difference? I certainly do. Practically every new writing theatre seems to be producing small, domestic plays. There are always exceptions. Katie Michell is an one-woman crusade for intellectual, inventive, highly theatrical work (albeit mostly adaptations or classics) but she is a director. What about the writers and the new writing venues? The Royal Court has started flying again with Rhinoceros by Ionesco for instance but where are the new non-naturalistic plays? Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Antony Neilson yes, they dare experiment and they have their work produced but we need more. We need more plays that break the chocking kitchen-sink drama mould that has dominated British theatre for so long. We need not just artistic freedom which we can all claim and stay in splendid isolation as a result but a paradigm shift, a cultural shift that seeks truth in spaces other than the kitchen!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Mother Tongue and Home Connections

After two months in Greece - a combination of sheer bliss and hard but productive work -readjusting to London isn't easy. I've often felt angry with people saying to me: Greece is so beautiful, the sun, ah the sun, why are you here? My response would often be: I'm not a vegetable to live off the sun; and Greece can be very ugly if you are an outsider. Both these statements I still stand by. Still, I'm now struck by homesickness and I've only been back for less than two weeks!

There is a primal desire to connect with other people in your mother tongue, to simply be in the place where you were born or grew up, amongst people who share similar cultural memories and experiences, that can only be satisfied physically. Of course as a writer your mind can go anywhere and it does. But the physical sensation of sitting at the balcony, surrounded by pine, willow and fruit trees, sipping your coffee and talking to people who know you from birth and really care for you, is one that the mind in and of itself cannot provide. The body needs to be there!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Writing versus Editing?

Does being an editor of a literary magazine drain you of creative energy for your own writing?
I've wondered this recently. It shouldn't in theory, it should energize you, give you ideas, create connections. Still, perhaps at some point - the setting up and the production point- the editing process can take you over, at the exclusion of your own writing as it has with me and BRAND, this new literary magazine I just set up.

BRAND has taken lots of my time and energy, this past year. Some of it was a necessary evil (fundraising, admin etc), but most of it was very, very exciting: starting a new project from scratch and seeing it develop to completion was exhilarating; being able to offer publishing space to new writing and artwork was a distinct pleasure. So yes, hard work but satisfying. BRAND is with the printers at last and I can't wait to see it next Friday the 22nd. I can almost do nothing else until then!

Getting back into creative writing space hasn't been easy. It hasn't fully happened yet.
(It has done in snatches of course these past 10 months or so). I need lots of empty space in my head first. I just heard my interview at London Greek Radio
(with Vasilis Panayis) about Nine Traces in A Cirle, my collection of Greek short stories and it was interesting to hear myself comparing inspiration to falling in love: the same high: losing all sense of everything and everybody else and focusing completely on the writing (or your lover). I'd forgotten I'd said that. I want that creative space back and I'll get it!