26 April 2009

The Great Game - Part One (& general overview)

Unashamedly copied from The Official London Theatre Guide....
The Great Game: Afghanistan is a festival exploring Afghan culture and history through a series of specially commissioned plays, readings, exhibitions and discussions, running from 17 April to 14 June.

Tricycle theatre Artistic Director Nicolas Kent said: “The aim of the festival is to help audiences understand more about Afghanistan, and to open up debate, appreciation and discussion on Afghanistan’s importance to Britain as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.”

Please take a few minutes to check out the video here.

The audience soon seemed to develop a rather clubby atmosphere and we were told that once we'd chosen our seats for part one, we could call them 'home' for the rest of the day. I secured an end of row fairly near the front which suited me fine. I noticed the writers slid in and out of the upper right balcony and was a bit sad to see that Mr Stafford Clark was only able to see part two though he'd reserved seats at the back of the stalls for all three. I'll forgive him anything though!

I don't think I've ever seen a production at the Tricycle that used every inch of available action space. My previous experiences have been with more conventional roomed sets. I rather like to see all the chaos and texture of the building. The proscenium seemed a very long way back & I made mental note to look into the history of this building which I believe had been a public meeting place. The only drawback of this design was the difficulty in expressing much intimacy when needed but it's a small thing and so many different situations needed to be accommodated.

There is a big backdrop of a politically inspired painting throughout most of the production although not always featured. I had to make notes because we were bombarded with so much intense information over and above what appears to be listed at the website - punctuating monologues and duologues(written by Siba Shakib), some of which worked better than others.

I can't adequately express what a mammoth undertaking this must have been. I fail to see how even a sell-out run could begin to break even but it deserves enough success to allow parts to tour perhaps, or run consecutively nationwide. Everyone involved seems to have made the most impressive commitment. I am hoping that there are reviews which can more intelligently express the importance & magnitude of this festival.

I'd like to give a special mention to Paul Bhattacharjee for his chameleon-like performances. He has a mouth like Tom Stoppard when it's not bearded - just a bit of trivia for you there. He glides around the stage like a prince. I hope he's a nice guy. You have to admire MIchael Cochrane's energy and poise. Ramon Tikaram and Jemima Rooper worked beautifully together. Daniel Betts has grown up to be a lovely actor and it's so good to see Rick Warden again. Lolita Chakrabarti was ethereal and Vincent Ebrahim had both the energy and the variety in his performance that made the stage light up when he entered. Jemma Redgrave's first character did not stretch her at all but she really came to life in part three.

Part One: Invasions & Independence 1842-1930 features four new plays which explore the history of the country in this turbulent period. The plays are:

Bugles At The Gates Of Jalalabad by Stephen Jeffreys.

In January 1842 a contingent of British soldiers, 16,000 strong, retreated from Kabul. Only a few stragglers were left alive in the British Army's worst defeat in history. The General's wife, Lady Sale, documents the battles in the Hindu Kush, while four buglers sound the advance at the Gates of Jalalabad as a signal to any survivors.

Jeffreys's plays include Like Dolls Or Angels, The Libertine, I Just Stopped By To See The Man and The Art Of War.
Lady Sale - Jemma Redgrave
McCann - Daniel Betts
Dickenson - Tom McKay
Hendrick - Rick Warden
Winterflood - Hugh Skinner
Afzal - Nabil Elouahabi

directed by Indhu Rubisingham

It was tough to be the first piece on stage at such a strange hour on a Sunday morning and if I'm brutally honest, that did tend to show a little. So much so that I am tempted to return one evening for this part. Mr Jeffreys is very good at making an impact and it must have been his task to set a mood for the entire day.

So to plunder my notes, we started with a monolgue from the wonderful Vincent Ebrahim (as Mohammed Mashal) and directed by Nicholas Kent with various company members stepping in as Taliban. It was set in Herat, 1996. It was immediately followed by Mr Jeffrey's production but I was highly amused when the gentleman in front of me commented to his wife that the monologue seemed like an 'amuse bouche' to commence our banquet!

As I implied earlier, 'Bugles' did not hit the ground running at all. The sound of the actual bugles were too much for me and made the nerves in my teeth pierce my senses. I suppose I'm too old for loud noises already. There was also a rather critical lighting error and a closer inspection of the stage revealed that they were few marks. I don't know if it was one of the actors who missed his spot or something wrong with the techs but for some rather poignant speeches, one actor who was required to remain stationary, was shadowed by another one standing in his light. I have noted that this piece seemed rather cold and this is not what I expect of Mr Jeffreys so I can only assume it was the hour of the day.

This piece was followed by duologue directed by Indhu Rubisingham, that really didn't work for me and was one of only two pieces during the entire day that did not receive any applause, though I should say this was probably more due to a bit of audience confusion that a concerted effort to show lack of appreciation. I felt desperately sorry for Jemima Rooper (Malalai) and Vincent (returning as Mohammed Mashal) but at this point I even wondered if I'd made a mistake in booking for all three. I believe this link shows a clip of the duologue.

Durand's Line by Ron Hutchinson

Set in 1893 at guest house owned by Amir Abdul Rahman who has kept the Indian Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, cooped up in Kabul for weeks. Sir Mortimer is desperate to negotiate the division of Waziristan to avenge the humilation of his father's name. Rahman fights to protect his country's borders from Imperialist map-making.

Hutchinson is the author of Topless Mum, Moonlight And Magnolias (performed at the Tricycle in 2007/08), Says I Says He and Rat In The Skull.

Sir Henry Mortimer - Michael Cochrane
Abdur Raham - Paul Bhattacharjee
Thomas Salter Pyne - Rick Warden
Servant - Danny Rahim

Directed by Nicholas Kentt

Hurrah for Ron Hutchinson. The cast finally got into their stride with a wonderful text. Michael Cochrane was magnificent. This part of the production still seemed a little raw in parts but in some ways that served well.

Sadly, the cafe staff were totally unprepared for the deluge at the interval but I noticed that they remedied that 200% for part two!
Campaign by Amit Gupta

Set in the present day at the Foreign Office. Harry Hawk MP, Parliamentary Private Secretay to the Foreign Secretary, needs to find a new approach to policy in Afghanistan. Hawk summons the expert, Professor Kahn, to advise on the potential success of the 'supplementary plan' conceived by the civil service. While Hawk hopes that history can repeat itself, Kahn is not convinced that it will.

Gupta is a writer and director for theatre and television, and won the Royal Court Young Writers' Competition with his first play, Touch.

Harry Hawk MP - Tom McKay
Professor Tariq Khan - Paul Bhattacharjee
Tom - Daniel Betts
Directed by Nicholas Kentt

Now Is The Time by Joy Wilkinson
This is set the north of Kabul in 1929. King Amanullah, his wife Soraya and his father-in-law Tarzi are fleeing the capital. Their car is marooned in the snow, while Pashtun tribes and Tajik forces march towards Kabul. Will the Soviet Union help? Will the British interfere?

Wilkinson's plays include Fair, Felt Effects and The Aquatic Ape.

Amanullah Khan - Sagar Ayra
Driver - Daniel Betts
Mahmud Tarzi - Vincent Ebrahim
Soraya Tarzi - Jemima Rooper

Directed by Nicholas Kentt

I'm sure this is a silly, empty thing to say but Jemima reminded me of Julie Christie in all her arctic furs. She was serene, sublime and strong. This is a very tightly written piece. I made an unreadable note that seems to compare some of this to In The Loop. I have given up trying to find a picture of the Queen. Far too few examples out there from this production.

Interview with Jemima Rooper.

Please take the time to read the various reviews listed here I am not sure how long that actual link will last. Please have a look around the cinema programme too. I have seen several of these films and there are some remarkable pieces in the schedule.
What's On StageReview.