Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Crisis of Inconvenience

As I mentioned a while ago, for my forthcoming Masters Degree, I intend to focus on how theatre responds to political and sociological crisis. And a couple of days ago I attended an intense event launching the playscript of Homegrown, which had been censored by the National Youth Theatre in 2015.

It's taken a while for me to get my thoughts into any kind of coherent strand, since I found the whole evening quite overwhelming, but, thinking about the night in the context of my intended study has helped immensely!

The newly published playscript of Homegrown

Theatre is a responsive medium - artists create from their own experience, and while every experience is unique, every experience is also valid. The experience of the characters in the play, which has been self-released now by the writer and director after reluctance from several publishers, is a harsh one, but one which many people across the world could, worryingly, relate to.

And maybe that's part of the problem - many people don't wish to face up to the reality of what life and experience may be like for an underrepresented minority in their midst. Theatre has, in large part, a duty to reflect the voice of the people, for right or for wrong.

Homegrown provocation

What struck me about this video is that Muslims in the entertainment media are most often depicted as figures of comedy or terror. There is very little nuance, back story, development or sympathy in characterisation, and they are used, most often as a foil for the hero. The only times in which they are shown with any degree of subtlety or humanity is when Muslim characters are played by white actors.  Admittedly in the above video, those clips are from older films and one would hope that we have progressed from this type of whitewashing, although alongside that statement would also stand the observation that Muslims are no longer depicted with any sort of empathy on film at all any more.

In this instance, the theatre was intending to respond to the given crisis in a number of ways: by giving voice to those who were not being heard; by showing the range of views that are contributing to the mire of opinion around the crisis; and by not offering judgement on the situation, merely trying to expose it in a sympathetic and empathetic way.

Original cast for Homegrown
Image Source: theguardian.com

The production was intended to be an immersive promenade performance in a school. By taking a location which would be over-familiar to many attendees, full of our own personal feelings and emotions around school and that period in our lives, and subverting the expectation, this production would have forced us to confront the crisis in a way that would have been difficult to ignore. Having experienced even a small snippet of the play the other night at the Index On Censorship event, I believe it would have been truly exciting and provocative had it been allowed to go ahead.

More worryingly, though, does this indicate that other sections of theatre are responding to crisis by ignoring it? Pretending it doesn't exist and making it go away when subversive opinions might dare to raise their heads and their voices?

Well, if this play proves anything, it's that theatre is incredibly hard to silence.


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