Thursday 4 October 2007
Guest writer - comment on The Racial Papers
Today’s entry is a piece which has just been posted at the bottom of the string of comments on an article I wrote about racial representations about a month ago. Since that article is now archived, this comment would perhaps not receive the attention its eloquent and passionate argument deserves if it were just left on that thread, so I have taken the liberty of re-posting it here in its entirety.
I’ll keep my comments general. If there is such a thing as Asian theatre in this country, a theatre that can be roughly aggregated as plays with themes relating to the British South Asian experience, written by British Asians, it seems to me to exist in a kind of soft tyranny, in which Arts Council ledgers are used as the benchmark for production, and a similarity of theme and form has become the stunting, stultifying norm.
The numbing sub-mediocrity of naturalism, social realism all integral to the thrust of what is proffered (without irony) as ‘authenticity’. It demands obeisance, despite its self-righteousness, obviousness, banality, cliché, contempt for imagination. Theatre as an adjunct to social work, theatre that has a kind of strange Marxist-like insistence on its own innate righteousness. Theatre that is complicit in its own co-option by a section of the mainstream theatre establishment (see David Edgar) which is terrified of its own impotence and irrelevance, and crass in its hunger for controversy and ‘importance’. A theatre that seems incapable of how to address the innate ‘Gunga Din’ and ‘Mind Your Language’ implications of the form when writing for white people --- absolute falsity of language and situation, a bowing and scraping and prurient theatre, rejoicing in its own tokenism and serving up slop and pandering to the prejudices and ignorance of that audience. A self-satisfied, pompous theatre heady on its own imagined importance, eye-glazing in its predictability and utterly oblivious to itself.
When plays full of rumbustious dance and the broadest comedy come along, despite their vulgarisms, I rejoice a little because at least it has a sign of impudent life, and is not written with a wagging instructive finger, and knows its froth is froth. But at least things are not too bad when you can identify what you have identified in this blog entry --- at least I know I am not imagining things, the judgments I have made are not based on some innate bias I have, and amongst other things (I hate to bring ethnicity into this), white theatre critics sometimes seem unable to make the judgments and say the things you have said here. You have no idea how good it was to read this post of yours.
This is a debate which needs bringing much further out into the open. But it is extraordinarily heartening to read such an acute appraisal of the potential damage some Arts Council policy may be doing.