Tuesday, August 04, 2015

This is why I write what I do

"Theatre needs to be written for the world and about the world.

The problems that confront us are global: an artistic response based on the dilemmas of a single individual, or a single individual within a single nation, is no longer adequate.

all traditional values are no longer adequate to handle the dilemmas that confront us.

our political ideas and institutions are no longer adequate.
our economic values and institutions are no longer adequate.
our scientific values and institutions are no longer adequate.
our ideas of gender, of what it means to be male or female, are no longer adequate.
our artistic ideas are no longer adequate.

We have to create new values, new institutions, new economic and political structures. Or we will destroy ourselves.

It is the responsibility of the artist to help dream, envision, create these new values and these new structures.

This is the focus of my life and work."

I don’t quite remember when I wrote that. It was when I first set up my web page. Around 2002, maybe.

It seemed completely obvious to me at the time. And strangely enough still does.

In the late eighties I’d travelled to southern California and Bangladesh within 2 or 3 months of each other. So I’d been in one of the richest countries of the world; and then in one of the poorest.

And in between I’d been in Egypt and watched the Berlin Wall being broken down.

I knew that everything I’d been taught about the world up till then was false. That the conflict was not between East and West. Not between the ‘freedom’ of the West and the ‘tyranny’ of the East. 

Perhaps it was between North and South: certainly between the rich and poor countries of the world. And that it wasn’t just the Communist bloc that was held up by the Berlin Wall, but the capitalist world too.

It was a very powerful vision I had and I travelled back to Bengal to spend some time in a village near Kolkata. Out of it I wrote my LIGHT IN THE VILLAGE.

The play caused me much suffering; and I was so hurt when one of its commissioners, Hampstead Theatre, turned it down and the play did really badly when it eventually opened.

But I’ve come to understand that people don’t want to be told unpleasant truths. And certainly not the kind of things that the Goddess Kali told them:

The children lie in the gutters and stare
At the rich in their towers of sculptured glass
and the rich ignore them
or feel self-righteous if they spare a tiny crust
prisoners in their towers of glass
prisoners afraid to feel the rain
Prisoners of vanity, Mukherjee,
Prisoners of lies. Stealing all the riches of the earth
forgetting that in the end 
They’ll have to pay for them.
For they must pay. Everyone has to pay.
Pity the rich Mukherjee. Pity the rich.
Thinking of nothing but their clothes
Enriching themselves from blood and hunger and disease
And holding their noses so they won’t suffer from the smell.
Precious people Mukherjee. Refined people of sensitivity and taste.
And don’t tell me you’re poor.
Don’t tell me of the comforts that you lack.

I was so angry in those days. In my deep heart I still am. But I hope a little less arrogant.

But it’s as clear to me now as it was then that capitalism is failing and will fall, as the other economic systems that had prevailed in the world before it. 

And it’s no use the contemptible David Camerons of this world trying to erect more fences, whether they’re around the Eurotunnel terminus or (much more powerfully) around our imaginations. They will fall.

We live in one world and we are all responsible for each other.

And how cross I used to get with all the artists who persist in creating according to capitalist values. Who continue to believe that drama is about individuals in isolation and in conflict.

I don’t want to keep creating capitalist art. I want to create post-capitalism art.

After ”Light In The Village”  opened, someone said to me: “You are a new age playwright”. And it made me so happy that someone had understood.

Those were more optimistic days. Before the criminals who run our economies and our world had managed to colonise our brains and fill our imaginations with their landscapes of greed and despair.

But in my obstinate way I keep on trying to resist. And I don’t believe drama is at all about conflict. It’s about togetherness. It’s about love.

And how characteristic of this disastrous era we are living through that even to write that makes me feel as if I am being ridiculous.

But it’s true. My last two plays, EVERY ONE and THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE were not about conflict at all. And nor is THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN.

This is the beginning of what a post-capitalist art might look like.

And how happy I was to come across Paul Mason’s new book - called POSTCAPITALISM! - and find him saying:

“The power of imagination will become critical. In an information society, no thought, debate or dream is wasted…”


“The most obvious ‘economic’ thing to the Shakespeare of 2075 will be the total upheaval of gender relationships, or sexuality, or health”.

I am no Shakeapeare, and this is still 2015. But I know that me and my amazing companions on this journey - Director Susan, Archangel Annabel, and St. Claire of the light switches - have created something different and have created something new.

And something that is of the theatre, which I so profoundly love, but does not need one. A show that can be performed anywhere and which just needs its creators, the clothes I am wearing, and the suitcase I bring on stage.

And a tin of yeast to make bread with.

We don’t know if it works or not, though we hope it does. We did our technical rehearsal today; and the first preview is tomorrow.

And then we will see….

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN opens at 10.45 on Wednesday August 5th in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall and runs till the end of the Festival.


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