Last night I went to the Manchester International Festival to see Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah's TREE and I think it's important to share a few thoughts on it.
Firstly, BORING, need to talk about the controversy around it. I'm going to skim over it because it's the least interesting thing about this project. I'll say this: Getting sacked off jobs SUCKS. It's happened to me (happened this week actually - cunts) and there has clearly been mis-communication in this process. I really hope it all gets cleared up and we can get back to making work and focusing one what's important on our national and global landscape from one of the most important buildings in it.
Now that's over lets talk about the play. First thing to say is that I fucking loved it. For me this piece of theatre represents the Theatre that I would like to make one day. It's populist in every manner whilst being rigourous in its exploration of history, race, spirituality, humanity and culture. They achieved this, obviously, by firstly having Idris Elbra, Kwame Kwei-Amrah, Alfred Enoch and Sinead Cusack in it which lays the foundations for event. People would come to see what the fuck these people have been up to anyway. They build on this by creating the feeling of an event; not a play. (I'm talking about this in the context of MIF). The first thing they do is literally put it on in a mad big hall which evokes somewhere in us the feeling of a rave. It's built around an album which evokes somewhere in us a gig. The media involves flying actors, fire, dancing, partying... Everything which evokes in us the feeling of spectacle. Before we've even read the fucking blurb we know it's got stars in it, it's got a social form, it's got massive theatricality, it's got music in it and it's a fucking passion play from some of the most important people in British Culture. This is a marketing fucking triumph and we should look at it as the ground works for all progressive theatre that looks to create "A Good Night Out with the biggest ideas".
The piece it's self is fucking holy. Essentially it's about a young man going to South Africa to scatter his mothers ashs where his father lays to rest. As a result he goes on a spiritual journey to discover his own history, his spirituality, his place in the historical world and his relationship to near enough everything. Watching it made me thinking about Jackie Sibbles-Drury fucking masterpiece WE ARE HERE TO PRESENT A HISTORY... Both of these plays talked about burning the fire of our ancestors. A spiritual connection with those who came before us and an awareness of the atrosities that shaped the social existence of our families and our own place in the world. This is essential viewing for all of us but it put in perspective for me that we, as a white northern British society, think of our ancestors mainly in terms of being defined by social circumstances. We think of the dead that came before us as miners, dockers, millers... Of what ever the fuck your family were but we don't think very much about the values of politics or the values of spirituality or the duty that comes with having these bloods in your veins. We certainly don't think about their role in the slave trade, or in colonialism, or their treatment as casual labour starving to death in terraced houses with their families before foremen didn't like them. Keeping the fire of our ancestors burning is an interesting proposition to put to people with English ancestors because you don't know what the fuck they've done how ever we have a place in history. We still have spirituality. Like or lump it their blood runs in our veins. So we must learn about our families, their values, their histories... It gives us purpose to either let them burn in our actions or challenge their actions with our own progressive ones. How can we ever understand ourselves without understanding the context of our families? Of our birth? How can we ever be of use without understanding how those before us have flown or failed humanity?
Anyway... Enough on that. This is a brilliant piece of theatre. It awakens questions in you that you will never ask on idle tuesday. The musics amazing. It's a great night out. The spectacle is fantastic. Hope they can work out the controversy. Go and see it.