Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mulholland Drive

Now - call me out of date - but I've only just seen this incredible film. I was prompted by my friend Dimitrios's response to Re-Orientations: "It's like David Lynch!" Well - I had to investigate... I'm happy to say that on closer inspection:
1. It really is a compliment and
2. I think it's probably true!

Where our work overlaps with Lynch is in the shifting nature of reality - the way in which a narrative refuses to explain everything, but allows itself to elude and mystify the audience with hints and surprises, just like life itself. The film, like our play, is set in a world of performers - and very often life seems to imitate art, rather than the other way round. Perhaps we make art - narrative - as a way of making sense of lives which are in fact largely arbitrary.

And Mulholland Drive (or - strictly - Mulholland Dr., for which read "dream") has an apparently realistic surface which is constantly shattered or disrupted by illusions, fantasies and imaginings. It dares to show, in the conventionally realistic form of cinema, what goes on invisibly in the subconscious. That's something else we're very keen to do in our work.

Where the film gets really radical is about three-quarters of the way through, when there is apparently a total reversal of realities, and the main characters seem to be re-created as different figures - still related to the main story but with different personalities, and different names. When it was first released, everybody complained that it was nonsense - but actually life can be very like that - and so can dream. I'd love to attempt an inversion so brave as that one!

Here's a link to a great blog about watching the film - a useful companion!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gothenburg and home

Saturday night saw a great Swedish feast at Teater Eksem's Gothenburg HQ, which gave me the chance to thank everybody properly. It was quite emotional - the end of two years' work with a very inspiring and tightly knit group of people. Not that it will be an end really - the show may well come back, and even if it doesn't the potential legacy projects are legion.

Still, we went into the final show on Sunday with a combined sense of loss and determination to be brilliant - and as a result had an amazing night. Last shows are often faintly disappointing, because the cast strive for a definitive performance and there really is no such thing. But this show, which is in many ways about loss, benefited hugely from the circumstances, and was very moving and beautiful. At the reception afterwards, the Swedish managements, funders and artistic guests all kept using the same word: "poetic". I like that. The performance was in the space at Pustervik, where I saw Victoria perform in the Festival on my first Swedish trip in 2008. Exciting to end the project in this lovely space which I know from its beginnings.

Filip and I shared the driving of the van to Dusseldorf on Monday, and then I did the last slog through the fog of northern Europe on Tuesday. The air of melancholy was appropriate, I suppose. But I didn't linger in it for long - the emails and meetings have been constant since I got back, and of course we are recruiting staff!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


That's Boras - not Borat. Cultural Learnings of Sweden Make Benefit Glorious Nation China. The town where we performed last night.

To be honest, we didn't expect much of Boras. It's an industrial town, a bit grey and rainy, and nothing like as pretty as Skovde was in the snow the other day. The theatre is a converted 50s cinema, with architecture that wouldn't have disgraced Stalinism, and Filip confessed it was really only in the tour so that there were three regional venues. When we set out from Gothenberg yesterday morning, only 15 people had booked to see the show there, in spite of the radio and TV coverage.

In a way, I guess that meant the pressure was off. Lloyd, Amy and Dori were very relaxed as they sorted out the set and lights, and we looked through all the states in detail. We even had time to rehearse some of the more tricky scenes on the tiny stage. No dimmer panics here: a new improved show featuring actors in light! So - oddly - we had rather a wonderful night. Especially since the audience which actually walked through the door was large, lively, diverse and appreciative. Lots of rhythmic clapping at the end. People buzzing with joy to have seen work of this kind in such an unlikely place.

Oddly, the final scene, which was a comic highlight in both London and China, doesn't seem to appeal to the Swedish sense of humour. With only three performances here, it's tricky to re-work it, but I'm fascinated to know why (and so far I have no idea). Other comedy works really well - especially, and not surprisingly, the tri-lingual scene in which Maja and Sammy learn bits of Swedish and Chinese. The Miss Julie bits have a strong resonance too. All part of the fascinating journey of this show between different very specific local responses to global ideas.

I've been reading some of the new Plagrave series of Theatre and... books since I've been here: specifically Ric Knowles on Interculturalism and Dan Rebellato on Globalization. I'm starting to wonder if it's right to define what we are doing as intercultural theatre. In Knowles's terms, this idea seems suspect, smacking of cultural imperialism, unless it's a form of "interculturalism from below", by which he means work initiated by non-white cultures and by-passing white mediation. Which doesn't cover us. A closer approximation is the idea of cosmopolitanism, at least as explained by Rebellato, who puts it forward as a positive response to globalization, which avoids the capitalist imperative of that movement, and the Luddism of localist response. In the end, theses are all just words, but they help to stimulate artistic and political ideas about where we might go next.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Touring Sweden in the snow

Skovde is a little town, about two hours' drive from Gothenburg. We got there in our van, a hired minibus and a little car driven by yours truly - up from the coast past lakes, forests and elk in the deep snow. Spatica, who arrived a day late because of the inevitable visa complications, was bouncing arond the car like a child on speed - you don't see much snow in Bangalore. Mia says it's strange for Sweden in early November, but anywhere there it was. Once we got to Skovde we had a snowball fight. Jue lost.

The theatre in Skovde is beautiful - modern, open and acoustically warm. It also has dimmer racks which don't work - so they had to be replaced before we could focus the lighting rig. As a result, the planned dress rehearsal went by the board - leaving Dori to operate her first show as her first run-through. It didn't seem to faze her as much as it did me. The lighting was actually more of a problem than the video, since we had no time to work through the cues or to make focus adjustments. There were key moments which were very dark, and moody moments that were too bright. It was all a bit of a mess, to be honest. And nobody's fault, really.

Still, the audience enjoyed the night. And it was a big audience too - several schools seemed to have decided this was one for their older pupils, so there was a large teenage contingent. The humour was as lively as it was with other young audiences - though in slightly different places, of course. One of the great joys of this project is the way the play's meaning alters slightly with every different audience. We changed a couple of moments - Bjorn's award acceptance now goes into Swedish when he's becoming most personal with Maja, and his "meltdown" is in a mixture of Swedish, English and Chinese. He also translates Radhakrishna's poem into Swedish. Oddly, I find the music of Swedish and Kannada rather similar. For the first time, this sounds like a duet.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Road Movie

At 9am on Sunday, Lloyd arrived at my house with a fully loaded van, hired from another theatre company, which, in the interests of charity and solidarity, will remain nameless. The idea was that we would take two days to drive it to Sweden for the next leg of the tour.

At 9.20, it ground to a halt on the M25. Total stasis. The engine wouldn't re-fire. I phoned the RAC. Forty minutes later Derek showed up (this is the cameo which Michael Gambon will play in the road movie). Derek looked under the bonnet and shook his head. The engine rattled about. He employed a few choice technical terms to suggest that we weren't going to get to Sweden in this particular van. He then said that, even though we'd specifically taken RAC international cover for it, and that I'd been told my personal cover would work in the UK, this van was too big for them to recover. And he left us at the side of the road.

The van itself seemed to have AA cover. So that was worth a try. Forty minutes later Jeff showed up (this is more a John Hurt role). He instantly towed the van. To Thurrock services. There it ws met by a mechanic who agreed that Derek had been right. At least the AA would take it home - but that was that.

Phoned Nisha and got her to do some mad Googling. Somehow she managed to find the only van hire place in the entire world which is open on Sunday mornings and hires vans to go to Sweden. She then drove round to Thurrock, children in tow, to pick us up. By now it was 1pm, and the van hire place closed at 1.30. I drove like a lunatic back to Enfield, and somehow made it in time to hire the new van. We drove it to Thurrock services, and re-loaded everything in the rain on the car park tarmac. Luckily another AA tow-truck arrived with perfect timing to deal with the wreck, and we were on our way. We finally made it to Calais at 6.30pm - when it had been planned for noon.

Somehow, with insane dashing through Europe and a snatched kip in Dortmund, we made it to Sweden by Monday night. It's very cold here. Snowing. But the team is re-assembled.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

London Film Festival

The London Film Festival hasn't featured quite so prominently in the Border Crossings psyche this year as it did for the last two - but at least I was here for some of it. Next year I'll be in San Francisco for the whole of October. It's always a rich and fascinating festival, and a source of new ideas. This year I've been looking for films which I might include in the next Origins programme, which we're developing for 2011, and for a sense of exciting things happening around the world! I was very sad to miss Pudana: Last of the Line, which deals with indigenous people from Siberia and the boarding schools, and Southern District, just because it's from Bolivia, where so much exciting indigenous thought is developing. The other film from Latin America which sounded very relevant to Origins, Even the Rain, got withdrawn from the Festival.... But I did see the wonderful Patagonia, which is an indigenous film from Wales, made largely in Welsh, and dealing with the presence in Argentina of a Welsh-speaking community. This suggested new ways in which the next Festival might start to look at the indigeniety question, and engage with it through communities who are actually here right now.

I also saw Heartbeats from Quebec, Godard's beautiful but impenetrable Film Socialisme, and a little dose of China (well, Taiwan) to re-charge my Oriental batteries: When Love Comes by Chang Tso-Chi. This film's gentle games with family and culture struck a lot of chords.