Saturday, July 07, 2007

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.


olly emanel said...

okay, fin, here's a suggestion. take a holiday. alright, not a holiday but a trip someplace else other than london and i'll tell you why. last september, i and my lady moved to glasgow and for a while i pined for the theatre down south, bemoaning the slimness of the 'what's on' listings in scotland. but not for long. in the last nine months, i've seen some of the best theatre of my life and all within a radius of less than a hundred miles. phil breen's superlative 'shadow of a gunman' at the citizens, my first sean o'casey and a total revelation of how chekovian realism can be exploded by political rage. david grieg's 'yellow moon' also at the citz, a masterpiece of theatrical storytelling with zero set and zero effects, just actors in space with words (at the ed fringe this year). other revelations included 'tom fool' which transferred down to the bush and obviously, 'black watch' by the national theatre of scotland. i've heard that it isn't coming to london anymore (sorry) but a more fantastic mix of language, movement and song i haven't witnessed for donkey's years. from an outsider's point of view, the theatre in scotland seems much less tradition bound, the companies all so much younger, and the culture generally so much more politically/historically aware that my regrets about heading north have almost all been dispelled. (the weather still sucks though). my advice to anyone feeling like they've seen it all before is to move on out, find a different place, or at least take a break and explore something new.

by the by, just received my amazon ordered copy of HOW TO DISAPPEAR and caused amusement in cafe when spluttering up my salad at the birth certificate bit. nice one.

Sal said...

I saw The Overwhelming in Leeds last year, on the recommendation of the lead actor in my film who had seen it at the National and raved about it - it was fantastic, what a moving, shocking, amazing play. Out of Joint are fabulous. Did you see OOJ's Permanent Way? That also was brilliant, I thought.

Fin said...

It's true my work does indeed keep me rather London-bound, but I'm the first to big up theatre beyond the Big Smoke - in fact I did just that in a March 2006 Guardian piece. It's a question of being in touch with your audience. Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh all have theatres that are far more part of their local communities, both in responding to and setting agendas for local concerns, than any of the big London venues (small London companies on the other hand, such as Half Moon, are another matter). This is achieved through recruiting writers from those communities and supporting them over many years, rather than encouraging them to write a trendy first play then cutting them loose Playwrighting is a craft it takes a lifetime to learn, and the venues outside London seem to appreciate this a lot more.

I think it's particularly telling that despite being set in London and Essex, HOW TO DISAPPEAR so alienated the London venues with its form that it eventually found a home in Sheffield. The centre of gravity for innovative theatre-making long ago headed north (and west).

Which is why I have firm plans to leave London next summer.

Oh yes. You heard it here first.

AcidDrip said...

Bravo! Lets hear it for the regions!! Just keep that to yourself though Fin as the house prices will only inflate further when all the wealthy london types like you move out here...