Monday, August 27, 2012

All of us, shipwrecked in mad hope. But hoping anyway...


When I was a boy, I remember reading an interview with the German composer Hans Werner Henze in which he said he wanted write love letters to the future. And not letters of personal complaint.

I didn't completely understand what he was saying at the time; but I do now. Because I think he was expressing an idea that is a the heart of everything I create.

By contrast, it often seems to me most people with big reputations are expressing their fear, their hatred, their loathing and their despair.

One of the many many wonderful things about Le Théâtre du Soleil's "Les naufragés du fol espoir", which I saw last Thursday was that it so beautifully embodied so many of the things I try to express.

It shone a light, a light in a dark world; and in that sense was a beautiful act of resistance.

I was so disappointed at first. I have been wanting to see this company for years, and all they seemed to be giving me was a feeble opening, a banal retrospective structure, and then a succession of jokes about making a silent film with surtitles on an open stage. It was true, the stage management was magnificent, but I did feel short-changed.

I cannot recall now quite how or when its power crept up n me. The story was of a silent film maker making a film in an attic above a restaurant and cabaret, a film about the journey of a ship full of migrants t Australia being shipwrecked on the coast of Patagonia... And while the film was being made the film-makers themselves were also being caught up in the wider madness of the events leading t the outbreak of the First World War.
Maybe it was the interlinkedness I started to get caught up in, the mad and wonderful multi-layering, the incredible virtuosity of staging and design, the passionate, gorgeous, utter commitment of the 33 strong cast, or maybe I fell in love with the passion of the film-maker trying, in the midst of endless setbacks to affirm and re-affirm the importance of what they were all doing. This is the real battle, he kept saying. The struggle for education. The struggle to create art... And in doing so the whole company created this so passionately affirmation of the power of theatre and the power of the imagination.
The beauty of it all really hit me when the ship set forth on her journey and was given her name: Le Fol Espoir. the mad hope.
I have been so struck lately by the thought and concern that's been lavished on our Olympic athletes. The investment in new training facilities. In hiring the very best coaches. In harnessing the best thinking and the best science to develop the most effective coaching. In taking care of the athletes to ensure they have encouragement and stability.
This is as it should be. The athletes still struggle against the odds, but s many now succeed. We are no longer part of a nation of amateur losers; and sporting success has all kinds of positive affects on our country's life.
There's such a shocking contrast between this and the way we treat our theatre artists. The training is patchy and under-resourced and often does more harm than good.  Facilities and working conditions are generally atrocious. The opportunities to perform professionally in funded companies shrink each year. The working environment is unstable and destructive.  Creative Scotland's plan to take away even the minimum level of stability enjoyed by many companies and replace it with project funding looks set to make the environment even more destructive.
When I was a boy, I remember reading an interview with the German composer Hans Werner Henze in which he said he wanted write love letters to the future. And not letters of personal complaint.
I didn't completely understand what he was saying at the time; but I do now. Because I think he was expressing an idea that is a the hear t of everything I create.
By contrast, it often seems to me most people with big reputations are expressing their fear, their hatred, their loathing and their despair.
One of the many many wonderful things about Le Théâtre du Soleil's "Les naufragés du fol espoir", which I saw last Thursday was that it so beautifully embodied so many of the things I try to express. It shone a light, a light in a dark world; and in that sense was a beautiful act of resistance.
I was so disappointed at first. I have been wanting to see this company for years, and all they seemed to be giving me was a feeble opening, a banal retrospective structure, and then a succession of jokes about making a silent film with surtitles on an open stage. It was true, the stage management was magnificent, bit I did feel short-changed.
I cannot recall now quite how or when its power crept up n me. The story was of a silent film maker making a film in an attic above a restaurant and cabaret, a film about the journey of a ship full of migrants t Australia being shipwrecked on the coast of Patagonia... And while the film was being made the film-makers themselves were also being caught up in the wider madness of the events leading t the outbreak of the First World War.
Maybe it was the interlinkedness I started to get caught up in, the mad and wonderful multi-layering, the incredible virtuosity of staging and design, the passionate, gorgeous, utter commitment of the 33 strong cast, or maybe I fell in love with the passion of the film-maker trying, in the midst of endless setbacks to affirm and re-affirm the importance of what they were all doing. This is the real battle, he kept saying. The struggle for education. The struggle to create art... And in doing so the whole company created this so passionately affirmation of the power of theatre and the power of the imagination.
The beauty of it all really hit me when the ship set forth on her journey and was given her name: Le Fol Espoir. the mad hope.
I have been so struck lately by the thought and concern that's been lavished on our Olympic athletes. The investment in new training facilities. In hiring the very best coaches. In harnessing the best thinking and the best science to develop the most effective coaching. In taking care of the athletes to ensure they have encouragement and stability.
This is as it should be. The athletes still struggle against the odds, but s many now succeed. We are no longer part of a nation of amateur losers; and sporting success has all kinds of positive affects on our country's life.
There's such a shocking contrast between this and the way we treat our theatre artists. The training is patchy and under-resourced and often does more harm than good.  Facilities and working conditions are generally atrocious. The opportunities to perform professionally in funded companies shrink each year. The working environment is unstable and destructive.  Creative Scotland's plan to take away even the minimum level of stability enjoyed by many companies and replace it with project funding looks set to make the environment even more destructive.
Ariane Mnouchkine has been able to work with her Théâtre du Soleil since she founded it in the Sixties.  The playwright who co-created this beautiful piece, Hélène Cisoux, has been able to be their resident writer since the Eighties. The play has been in their repertoire since 2010, and they have been able to refine and improve it. They work under conditions that offer the possibility of stability and working on a grand scale that we can scarcely begin to dream of.
Cisoux began working with the company in 1985, the same y ear I started to work with the Traverse. I worked consistently with them until i was forced out in the early 2000's, which I remember experiencing as an utter disaster at the time. Most of my work has opened before it was ready, and closed just as it was beginning to be right.
In black moments I think my best work is past, and I will never reach my full potential as a theatre artist: because the theatre environment is simply so destructive. And none of us can work alone.
But then complaint is useless. As I knew all along.
Les Naufragés ends with this beautiful image of two idealists paddling a canoe through stormy waters, off to build a lighthouse at the end of the world.
Paddling alone, yet with the whole company around them and supporting them.
As I write this, I am travelling down to London to be briefly at rehearsals for my GREAT EXPECTATIONS, first performed in 1988, and now again miraculously revived for a commercial tour.
The ambition, I know, is to create something of world class. Even under impossible pressures and in far less ideal conditions.
Something amazing will occur. I know.
And as dear Calderón reminds us in his "Life Is A Dream":
"The good you do is never lost.
Not even in dreams".


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