Monday, 12 October 2015

Of a free and open nature…

Picture courtesy of the RSC Press Office

When I came here I was like a child in a sweet shop: the diversity of Britain is so exciting to me – I had never even seen a black person before I lived here. Multiculturalism is the best thing about Britain, and people from immigrant communities often know that better than most.
– Qerim Nuredini: The Observer

It’s an odd old place, Stratford-upon-Avon – one of the most curious (“terrible”?) aspects (to me) being the three-way incongruity of its resident lack of ethnic minorities; the global reach of its tourism; and the discrimination-demolishing diversity of our “most renowned” local theatre troupe (a worthy trait even present in its ‘audience development’ campaign).

…there is real value in diversity. Different people generate different thinking. Difference is always interesting and seldom a threat. It may be disruptive, but the arts should always be open to disruption; it’s what they do best. By being more open, democratic and equal, and by spreading opportunity more fairly, theatre may start not only to reflect the world in which we live, but also to help itself, by throwing off accusations of elitism.
– Lyn Gardner: The Guardian

The first facet of that unholy trinity was reinforced for me, again, last night, sitting in the RSC: waiting for the traditional Sunday‑night darkness to be lit up by Shappi Khorsandi, Seann Walsh and Mark Steel.

Despite my lack of keenness for reviews that reveal some of the punchlines, I think this is a pretty reasonable summation of the evening – one that was definitely worth me dragging myself from my stricken-with-man-flu ‘deathbed’, anyhow… – and that write-up, of course, saves me from also trying to capture the ineffable….

Funny(?), though, that…

For all his hints that Stratford might need to see a shrink about its slight obsession with a long-dead former resident, Steel encourages the town to stay unique, to keep its Tudor ducks and daft shop names, and not to give in to corporate attempts to homogenise our colourful country…

…and yet he must have been astonished – although he’s obviously an intelligent chap: and would have realized that, as a ‘socialist’ comedian, like Jeremy Hardy, he was risking becoming Daniel when he entered the lion’s den of Conservatism on the canted holographic, hallucinogenic Henry V stage, to catch sight of nothing but white faces (bar one: as far as I could discern, from my vantage point, stage left – and I don’t mean Khorsandi: whose hyperactive, happy, honesty was highly hilarious…)! At the RSC, despite Stratford’s low immigrant make-up, this is a highly-unusual state of affairs.

Picture courtesy of the RSC Press Office

It was no surprise, therefore, that mentions of Jeremy Corbyn, and criticisms of the current Government, were kept to an anomalous minimum – which, for me, despite my mirth, somewhat lessened the set’s impact. Steel had obviously done his research: but it seemed a shame that his normal “rapier wit” was, last night, a little more rounded than usual.

To be blunt, I therefore found Walsh’s laconic, lugubrious routine somewhat more chortlesome – and both he and Khorsandi did well in coping with a couple (sat directly in front of me) who had obviously only bought tickets (at £21 a pop) to engage in constant barracking: and who were therefore politely asked, first, to tone it down; and, finally, at the end of the interval, to leave – which they kindly did. (Kudos to the RSC staff who also dealt with this so very patiently.)

Picture courtesy of the RSC Press Office

Our job is to give the best possible experience of Shakespeare and live theatre to the widest possible audience, and to inspire a lifelong love of his work and theatrical performance.

My belief is that the theatre should host many more of these events. How they ensure that “the widest possible audience” attends, though, I am not so sure….

My kids will say they are African British, but me? I am an African woman with a British passport. You try to be part of the society you come into. I adapted: I loved fish and chips but it was bland, so I added chilli. I’ve done the same with Britain – put my own spice into it.
– Rebecca Sesay: The Observer

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