Monday, May 31, 2010

More festivals

I'd never been to the Hay Festival before, even though I grew up in nearby Hereford, and my parents still live there. I'd expected the Festival to operate across the little town of bookshops, but in fact it's a posh, Anglicised version of the Festivals I've attended in Australia and New Zealand, with all the events in tents (or marquees, for Hay), somewhere in a crowded field. We went to a debate about youth and education, which included an inspiring contribution from Hilary Hodgson, who was our contact for the grant we had from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation towards O Patrin. Then listened to Ian McEwan reading from, and talking about, his new novel Solar. I'd already read the book - very quickly and with much laughter. It's a return to form by McEwan: I loved Atonement, and then felt that both Saturday and On Chesil Beach were disappointing. Solar manages to employ the ironic method McEwan used in Saturday without having the effect of patronising the characters (or the reader). Although his central figure is repulsive, he is also capable, and strangely sympathetic - his life spinning out of control, entirely as a result his own actions. I also much enjoyed the fact that this was a comic novel about climate change. McEwan spoke interestingly about this: he had been very anxious to avoid the preachy, the worthy - and so decided to come at his subject from an oblique angle. I find this very helpful at a time when all the funders are asking for socially relevant subjects and "impacts": there have to be ways of making art which allow for this and yet are still artistic instead of being dull propaganda. McEwan has found one.

In the evening, we listened to a Christy Moore concert. I've loved this singer for years - a great teller of moral and emotional truths. I'd never heard him live before, so this was a real treat.

I find Festivals more and more appealing: they really allow people to clear some space, stop their everyday mania and contemplate other things over a period of time. Far better than a show hastily snatched at the end of the day, after a quick meal and before the last train. I very much want to do another Origins, and have also been chatting to a number of people about joining forces, so that other Festival events can get an Origins input. There's a lot of excitement about the initiative across the globe... this morning I met up with a Native American storyteller who was in London and wanted to chat about it. And I'd also like to get the work we create into more Festival settings: it somehow seems more appropriate for our audiences to be receiving the work in that kind of environment.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I watched Sarah Ruhl's play Eurydice at the Young Vic last night. I found it whimsical, charming and magical... though I am not in agreement with many of the critics, it has to be said. Maybe I just enjoyed it because it was the first thing I've seen in six weeks which wasn't directed by me.... but I suspect it's more to do with the playfulness of this American writer's voice, and her daring interweaving of mythic and dream-like material with something close to aspects of American social reality. Magical realism, or something approaching it, is, after all, what I enjoy doing in the theatre. The inter-penetration of different worlds, of complex visible and invisible realities. You don't get much more invisible than the realm of the dead - or closer to our emotional heart.

Ling Skypes me from Beijing. She's working with a company that wants to do Brecht's Good Soul of Szechuan at the National Theatre, and she wants me to advise on the production. It opens the week before Re-Orientations is due to hit Shanghai - which could oddly work quite well if they want me just before the opening and at the start of the (lengthy) rehearsal period. It would be interesting to colour the rehearsals with some immediate experience of China again. And perhaps pick up the odd prop and costume item....

Long chat with Nick Moran about the technical side of the show. We need to find ways of integrating the lighting - which Nick is keen should not be set ahead of the performances, but should have an improvised element like the rest of the show - with the very solid pre-recorded elements of video and sound. Except, of course, that some of the video and sound is live too. Hmm.

The board met on Tuesday. Very pleased that Martin Bloom will be joining us. He's currently in China, having rather more commercial board meetings! We discuss the effects of the election on funding for us. It's clear that the cuts are not going to miss out the arts budget.... in fact, our current record on applications suggests that the economic situation is already biting very hard. Emma rightly says that the only way in the new climate is to build relationships with business and individual donors - which is the American model. But how????

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Living in an unsettled time

I've been back in the UK for just over a week, and it has been a very remarkable week. After our election last Thursday, it's got to Tuesday and it looks as if David Cameron might finally be about to limp battered and bruised into Number 10, having conceded vast amounts to a Lib-Dem party that actually didn't get anywhere like the number of votes it should have done on the basis of the campaign.

Everybody is treating this as if it's a bizarre event - but globally, and certainly in Europe, coalitions are the norm. In fact, Europe now has only three remaining majority governments - in France, Malta and (wait for it) Greece. Hardly a recipe for perfection, then. The fact is that coalitions, and their attendant negotiations, are the essence of a consensual democracy. In recent years, they have been waylaid by the centralising of party power in the leaders' offices. Before that, parties were also mini-coalitions, which only evolved in the first place to facilitate the inevitable process of give and take involved in forming a government. I said before the election that a hung Parliament would be the best result because it would re-vitalise our democracy - and nothing I have seen in the last few days undermines that idea. Who knows - we may even get a Tory-led government which brings in a form of PR and raises the tax-free allowance to help the poorest workers.

Talking of helping poor workers.... (!) we've had some positive results on some of our recent funding bids. The Swedish Embassy is helping us, as is the Commonwealth Foundation, and Nick Moran has some funding for the research aspect of lighting the show. It's still not as much as we need - so we've had to take the difficult decision to stage only Re-Orientations this autumn, rather than the full Trilogy. Which said - that's the new show and the one we are most proud of - so there's still a very big and exciting project here!

Also sent in another EU bid - this time for a project with Palestine. All fingers crossed, then....

The reviews for the Houston Xerxes are out. They are all really good - but here's a link to my favourite!