Thursday, 31 August 2017

How To Act – Summerhall, Edinburgh

[seen 18/08/17]

How To Act does one thing, and it does that one thing in two or three successive ways. Ultimately, they are all the same way, but with increasingly levels of transparency. The thing it is doing is essentially pointing out white/Western/colonialist attitudes can exist even within the best of intentions.

Does anyone fancy disagreeing with that?

Thought not.

The piece might be stronger were it to also attempt to mount some sort of defence, but then there probably isn’t one. At which point, we enter the realm of stating the bleeding obvious to the converted.

What happens in phase one is that a Peter Brook-ish director is giving one of those masterclasses that they used to have on telly at the end of the seventies. (For younger readers, here’s a young Gandalf explaining Macbeth, and then Fry and Laurie taking the piss out of these sorts of programmes.) In fact, the director is so Peter Brook-ish that I reckon, with a half decent lawyer, Brook could probably win a legal case against NTS. I mean, who wants to face the possibility that Brook’s Mahabharata (for example) might be the most misguided exercise in cultural appropriation ever? (Actually, I’d be fine with that. Fuck him and his empty space. Seems a bit much though, non?)

Phase one is quite good. It’s good because it’s relatively subtle. The discerning audience member can see that there is a very uncomfortable imbalance of power between the director and his volunteer actor, who happens to be a much younger, mixed-race woman.

Phase two makes sure that everyone else in the audience, who might have been happy taking phase one at face value – as a workshop situation in which we might not bother considering the power relations between (older, white, male) director and (younger, mixed-race, female) actor – is brought up to speed. Phase two is consequently a bit tiring for everyone who got it during phase one.

Phase three amps up the entire thing by revealing – in a plot twist that brighter audience members will have seen coming a mile off – that older white male director is younger mixed-race female actor’s father. Then, when she reveals this to him, he smacks her in the face, or something. Phase three can basically fuck off altogether.

Now, y’know, I’m a good leftie, so I tend to agree with the overall message – that imperialism and exploitation are naughty. But I knew that when I walked in. Having it reiterated to me at some length – with no credible new information or analysis – does nothing for me, I’m afraid. Indeed, I’m enough of a leftie to actually quite fancy a bit of a dialectic. Or something that at least offers my default anti-imperialism a thoughtful critique. What I don’t particularly need to watch is a kangaroo court on behalf of my beliefs which is so one-sided that it almost embarrasses me out of holding them.


Samuel Ross said...

Can I just say though...

Ian Mckellan in that clip you shared looks weirdly like Rufus Norris. It's surreal.

Andrew Cowie said...

Yes, thank you Andrew, all Graham Eatough is doing is showing the sensitive side of white male privilege which, rather than challenging it, serves only to apologise for it and, by extension, to preserve it. The play took such care to set up the form of the show that I kept waiting for the young woman to blow up the whole structure of a masterclass, and the form of the play we were watching, but she didn't, she stayed at all times within it, so the whole thing - performed in the biggest room at Summerhall, funded by the NTS and dripping with awards - was an affirmation of the institutionalised power structures it observed but did nothing to challenge.