Thursday, August 15, 2013

Theatre Alba's Anne Frank and the politics of art

Recently Nicola McCartney, a friend and colleague, wrote very movingly of her fears for the world. Her antennae are sensitive, her perceptions sharp: she sees connections between the outbreak of homophobia in Russia, the growth of vicious strongmen dictators in Eastern Europe, the racist policies of the British coalition government and fears that in response to the profound crisis in our social and economic order we are sliding back into fascism.

I don’t feel able to reach conclusions. I can only respond with grief and horror to the mob murder of a young trans sister in Jamaica. To the thugs torturing a young gay man in Russia, and filming his suffering in order to gloat. To the vile racism of the vans going round London with their disgraceful message calling on us to ‘go home’. 

To the blatant corruption of the British ruling class; to the feebleness of the opposition to it. To the collective feebleness of the world response to the blatant and grotesque immorality of Russia’s anti gay laws.

And I get angry when the likes of Jonathan Mills, the Edinburgh Festival’s outgoing director, talk of the need for artistic creation to be ‘apolitical’ in the face of it all.

Art is always political.

A major difficulty we have is that so much of it is on the wrong side.

On the side of reaction as opposed to positive change. On the side of despair: and the destroyer of hope.

All this thrown into agonising relief by a beautiful and powerful production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”, produced by Theatre Alba, directed by Charles Nowolskielski, performed in the gardens of Duddingston manse.

Nowolskielski is a lone wolf; a fiercely independent maverick who pursues his own concerns and theatrical lives irrespective of fashion and popular demand.

He also happens to be one of the country’s best directors, working every year with a consistent core of committed, passionate and skilled actors. Together they create an ‘Anne Frank’ of astonishing poignancy and power.

The gardens at Duddingston have to be one of the most beautiful outdoor theatres in Edinburgh. The stage is enclosed by barbed wire. The ugliness of human cruelty seems all the stronger surrounded by the astonishing beauty of the world.

The characters are far from being noble martyrs. They suffer petty jealousy, quarrel over trivialities, are cruel and spiteful to each other.

The artists of Theatre Alba who so beautifully tell their story do so with unflinching compassion and courage.

Night falls all around us as we watch them portray the darkness.

Anne talks of her wish that her writing be useful. She says that in spite of everything she retains her belief in human goodness.

And we are left with the image of her book. With the artistry that has told her story; and that in doing so helps us belief she was right.

That art matters. That people may even at heart be fundamentally good.

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