HOORAY!!! I have finally seen a show I enjoyed and can recommend: Baghdad Wedding at Soho Theatre.
It's a beautiful piece of writing, with a fine cast and imaginative staging. Excitingly, it also has an inherent sense of theatrical possibility, with the dead talking to the living, and scenes freezing while outsiders interject, that sort of thing. But most importantly for me it has at its heart a glimpse into a world of licentious, promiscuous, middle-class Iraq, which you just don't hear about very often. Of all the shows I've seen lately this is what made it stand out; it opened a door onto an unfamiliar world, and in so doing told me something I didn't already know. It isn't perfect - the portrayal of the American characters is (perhaps understandably) rather one-dimensional in its fury, and at 1 hour 50 minutes straight through it could do with a trim. But even so it's certainly the best thing I've seen in a long time.
All of which set me wondering about whether I've been looking in the wrong places for the originality of material I so crave in drama. My girlfriend reminded me that the shows we have enjoyed most at the Royal Court, for example, have almost always been the ones developed by their International Department; readings from Cuba and India, or the Russian seasons with plays by Vassily Sigarev and the Presnyakov brothers which were on a few years back. Our favourite show from last year was The Overwhelming, about Rwanda, whilst other favourites like Royal Hunt Of The Sun, or The Pillowman, or going even further back in time Fallout, The Battle of Green Lanes, or Jitney - all located their worlds in either specific cultural groups alien to our own, or fantastical imagined landscapes, or time periods long ago. Whilst in my own work I'm finding it particularly exciting and satisfying getting to grips with the worlds of the Bengalis and the Jacobeans.
Perhaps I know my own culture too well. Perhaps having watched and studied, from A-levels onwards, so many plays chronicling the state of modern Britain, that this is an exhausted furrow which writers need to leave fallow for a while before returning to.
Or perhaps my insistence that theatre should take me to places never before seen is just asking too much. Maybe I should just shut up, pay my twenty quid, and try and take some comfort and enjoyment in hearing the same familiar stories one more time. (It worked for Shakespeare after all.)
But then a show like Baghdad Wedding comes along and ballses that idea up... Once that itch gets scratched it just seems to get stronger.
What a horrible dirty addiction theatre is.