Quoted in the Observer, Discussing Artistic Freedom

Last week, the award-winning Indian playwright Abhishek Majumdar posted a disconcerting message on Facebook, regarding his play Pah-la.

My dear Tibetan Friends, in Tibet and in exile, who have contributed extensively to the writing of Pah-la, I regret to inform you that the play has hit a roadblock again.

It was supposed to open on 4th October 2017, at the Royal Court Theatre, in London, with its poster printed and rehearsals fixed, when the British Council China pressurised the theatre to withdraw it from opening because of a program in China that they were running together.

Continue reading “Quoted in the Observer, Discussing Artistic Freedom”

Quoted in the New York Times discussing the cancellation of Rita, Sue and Bob Too

The Royal Court Theatre has cancelled a revival of Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Andrea Dunbar’s 1982 play about grooming and sexual exploitation. The cancellation came after it was revealed in October that Max Stafford-Clark, who directed the original production and co-directed the revival, had been forced to resign as creative director of Out of Joint due to multiple allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour.’

The venue had recently staged No Grey Area, an event in which 150 stories of sexual abuse and exploitation were shared over the course of an afternoon. The Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone has called for the British theatre community to reckon with the abuses of power, just as Hollywood is doing now that the extent of Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous behaviour has been revealed. In this context, says the theatre, staging Rita, Sue and Bob Too is “highly conflictual.”

I spoke to New York Times correspondent Anna Codrea-Rado about the cancellation and am quoted in her report: Continue reading “Quoted in the New York Times discussing the cancellation of Rita, Sue and Bob Too”

59 Productions to produce City of Glass for the stage

This week 59 Productions (the radical design and production company than I had a hand in setting up) announced their latest project.  Its an adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass by Duncan Macmillian, the acclaimed writer of People Places Things.  The show is directed by my friend Leo Warner and is a co-production with Home and the Lyric Hammersmith.

City of Glass (part of Auster’s New York Triology) is an intriguing post-modern detective story that plays with ideas of reality, identity and imagination.  I think its a perfect fit for the kind of art that Warner and the remarkable 59 Productions team create.  In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he outlines their approach. Continue reading “59 Productions to produce City of Glass for the stage”

Quoted in the Huffington Post discussing ‘Homegrown’

An extremely odd and disconcerting story was reported in the Guardian this week, regarding a National Youth Theatre play that has abruptly cancelled, just two weeks before its opening night. There are fears that ‘Homegrown’ was pulled due to the sensitive subject matter: young people drawn to ISIS.

I spoke to the Huffington Post about the issues raised for English PEN: Continue reading “Quoted in the Huffington Post discussing ‘Homegrown’”

A couple more points, if you please, about the swearing in Black Watch

In my essay for the Sunday Herald I made the case for the necessity of the swearing and offensive chatter that makes up much of the dialogue in Black Watch:

They are working class, inarticulate and insecure boys with no prospects other than the army. And when these men speak, they swear. It is integral to their vernacular. To sanitize their words would be to silence them.

Unfortunately the constraints of the page forbade me from elaborating on this point…. but luckily, I have a blog.

The swearing of the enlisted men is also important because of the contrast it presents with the officer class, and the politicians who have sent Scottish soldiers into harm’s way for centuries.  The show has a marvellous musical number where Lord Elgin, in full highland dress and regalia, prances around the stage, beckoning the young men to sign-up: “hurrah, hurrah!”  He speaks the Queen’s English, and he is as mendacious as they come (“did I mention it would be all over by Christmas” he says as he sends the soldiers off to Flanders in 1914).  In this context, the Fifer accents of the soldiers are a necessity. Homogenising the language would be an act of class warfare.

To my mind, the final genius of Black Watch lies in the juxtaposition between the coarse language and the stunning physical theatre.  One reason why Steven Hoggett’s choreography is so powerful is because the precise and often tender movements emerge from characters who have been f-ing and c-ing just moments before.  The combination jars the audience and is compelling, and it is the rude words that tee-up this possibility.

Defending ‘Black Watch’ and free speech in the classroom

A headteacher in Kirriemuir has caused controversy by banner her pupils from studying Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland production that I worked on in 2006.  What with this history, couple with the free speech work I do for English PEN, this is perhaps the perfect issue for me to write on.  Over the weekend, The Sunday Herald published my essay setting the issue in its context.

Free speech controversies are like solar flares. They burn hot and bright. Right now, it is Angus that is feeling the heat. Last week, the Sunday Herald reported that one headteacher in Kirriemuir had pulled Black Watch off the Highers syllabus because it is “offensive”. Parents are angry at the decision, and have demanded an explanation. Continue reading “Defending ‘Black Watch’ and free speech in the classroom”

War Horse on Broadway

The making of War Horse – projection and animation from 59 Productions on Vimeo.

Tenacious readers will recall that I had some small involvement in War Horse, the preposterously successful National Theatre production that transferred to the West End, and now Broadway. Fifty Nine Productions has just published a short film on the video design element of the show.

In the Guardian, Patrick Kinsley has a round-up of the New York reviews, including some emotional blogging:

“I wept silently yet uncontrollably,” writes blogger Lisa Lindblad. “I am not capable of emotional distance in the face of an animal’s pain nor an animal’s love. I was distraught. And, so, I made it through until intermission and then left. Reluctantly, sadly, but self-protectively.”

Here are the puppeteers behing the show, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, speaking (and performing) at a TED talk.  I worked with them in the early workshops for War Horse, and it was fascinating to see how they developed the subtle movements that made the wooden contraptions so lifelike.

For full geek points, you might like to look at this experimental stop-motion animation I made in 2007, one evening after work at the National. In one shot you can see the horse puppets in the background, swaying in the air-conditioning and looking not unlike a real animal resting after a hard day in the field. It was odd yet brilliant that even the most rudimentary rehearsal models seemed to have that life to them.

Free Belarus Now

Yesterday I went with PEN to support a demonstration for the people of Belarus, “Europe’s last dictatorship.” It was organised by Free Belarus Now, the Belarus Free Theatre and Index on Censorship. The Almeida Theatre were also in attendance.

As were, somewhat crucially, Jude Law and Kevin Spacey. Here are my photos of the event:

The demo began outside the offices of Grayling PR, who have set up an office in Minsk and promote morally compromised businesses in Belarus. Keenly aware of the PR damage such an association might cause, the CEO of Grayling posted a blog on the issue. Michael Murphy pointed out that companies he promotes in Belarus provide local jobs, and lauds the ‘economic opportunity’ that they provide. However, without free expression and democratic checks, this so-called ‘opportunity’ is meaningless, limited only to those who acquiesce to Alexander Lukashenko brutal methods of control. Murphy’s words are hollow, his reasoning unsound and amoral.

A salient fact from the blog sticks out:

There are no UN sanctions against Belarus

Well, quite. This is a huge political failure. Leaving Grayling’s offices behind, the demonstrators walked down Victoria Street to the Houses of Parliament, to lobby British MPs on this issue and demand a tougher stance against Lukashenko and his cronies. New and free elections are sorely needed, and the political prisoners – journalists, activists and presidential candidates – must be released.

Now watch this video of the demonstration, including a short and eloquent paean to freedom of expression from Mr Law: