March 27, 2012
On way back now and trying to take stock of it all after two more days of sensual bombardment. I hope what made this more than just cultural tourism was the huge range of people we meet from all strata of society.
Our guide Oliver had been recommended to us by Hardeep Singh-Kohli, with whom he had worked on a cross India culinary odyssey, published as a book that Oliver had taken the photos for. He was definitely the modern Indian, one parent English, one Indian, at ease in both worlds having worked in London for the photographer Avedon, taken the BBC everywhere in India and had a huge array of contacts and a wonderful sense of humour.
Once we had got it clear that we weren't looking for a precise location for the play, rather more an impression of as many aspects of the city as possible, he excelled in getting us into fascinating conversations. A wedding planner with her tales of £60m weddings with gifts of helicopters, a documentary filmmaker turned commodities dealer, a patriarchal Punjabi business man responsible for much of modern Delhi, yet working out of an old office piled high with art books and talking of the nature reserve he owned. His deep voice enthralled with wicked yet generous tales , we escaped after the first whisky otherwise I think we would have been doomed!
At the other end of the social spectrum our driver Ram, a most gentle and sympathetic man, gave us an insight into his village origins (3,200 at his wedding aged 16!) and the hard struggle that an ordinary man faces to support his family. His best joke - 'You need three things to drive in Delhi; good horn, good brakes and… good luck!'
In the theatre world we met actors, designers, a musician, the head of the National Drama School and the most influential theatre company in Delhi in a search for names for actors and a costume designer.
One concrete proposal that came up, I hope, is to try and arrange a design internship for somebody from the drama school to come over during our tec. A possible costume designer was very perceptive in her analysis of how the India perceived by the expats (NRIs) in England is now out of date, if we source the show from Southall it would be wrong.
There was a definite hunger for the RSC to come back to India in the most straightforward way, just bring us your best work, it doesn't have to have an Indian hook. This sparked a strong debate about the 'Indian' Dream that was in the last major RSC festival in 07.
I think we have a chance to treat India seriously in our production for the World Shakespeare Festival and hope to tread the line on cultural imperialism and avoid a postcard production. Not that easy in practice, as by its very nature theatre is a selection, an editing of reality, so how can we prevent that selection seeming decorative?
Spaces, the sense of spaces, seems the strongest, crowded and confused contrasted with stillness and calm. The courtyard can be our Haveli, the audience the throng.
by Tom Piper
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