Friday, 11 January 2013

The art of protest

By Debbie Griffiths

I’m being a bit cheeky here, but I’m sure the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) won’t mind – afterall, they’re getting two positive blogs for the price of one. They invited me to their Boris Godunov blogging event expecting me to tweet and blog on behalf of @idealconsulting.  I have, but I couldn’t resist putting something out on Save Shottery, too.

Boris is the directing swansong of Michael Boyd, who magnificently recreates the era depicted in Pushkin’s play then brings it bang (literally) up to date with scenes and settings that parallel Putin’s Russia today. It’s all very clever.

Photo: Debbie Griffiths 
But the play was only part of a great evening that started off with a powerful photographic exhibition in the Ferguson Room at the Swan Theatre and finished with an exclusive Q&A with members of the cast and the assistant director.

Silent protest in pictures
A World Elsewhere’ is an RSC-commissioned photo reportage to accompany the series of classic world plays they’re staging. The images of people, places, protest and disaster are excellent in their own right, but also a powerful introduction to Boris. A couple got me thinking about our campaign to Save Shottery. 

Picture behind Gethin Anthony (R)
The first was from Latakia in Syria, where war has changed a former tourist town beyond recognition.  Admittedly, building a road and 800 houses behind Anne Hathaway’s orchard cannot be compared with such atrocities, but it is sad to think how the heart and joy of a popular place can be so easily ripped out.

The other was a photo from Lithuania. The Hill of Crosses is a site of pilgrimage where one cross placed in 1831 has been added to over time and now over half a million stand to signify the  peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite all threats.

Kryziu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses) ©Angus Fraser
If only we could do this on Bordon Hill, what would symbolise our struggle against aggressive property developers? Please let us have your thoughts!

Change needs an end goal
I think the photos most relevant to the Boris play were those of the former Soviet Union and the Arab uprisings. The action starts on stage with the masses wanting a new leader and ends with the masses happy for anyone who can bring change, no matter how genuine they are.  As Dmitry says: “People don’t care what I am. All I am is change.”

This has long been Russia’s problem. Today it’s Egypt’s turn, where the crowds forced change a year ago, but now they don’t like the change the new regime has introduced. 

That’s why we’ve always been clear about the Save Shottery goals so no-one gets disillusioned. Our aim is to stop Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) selling out our heritage to greedy property developers and to support them in positive alternative ways to raise funds.

Truth and transparency
Save Shottery also makes one more demand of the SBT, namely for the charity to be transparent about its meetings and any decisions taken by trustees – especially those with housing and property development interests.  Surprisingly, this seems a bit of a sticking point, with the Trust saying it’s not obliged to publish anything and continuing to do things in secret. Such behaviour is so out of date.

Perhaps they should go and see Boris and consider the old priest’s warning that you cannot hide anything, it will all come out in time and those who mocked and scorned you will end up eating their words.  

Patrick Romer (Noklka Pimen) Photo: Ellie Kurttz
They could also learn from the RSC who, in opening themselves up to bloggers, have taken a brave decision that should pay off in the digital age we live in. Allowing actors to talk candidly about directors’ styles and what goes on in rehearsals and allowing bloggers to write anything we like keeps Shakespeare’s legacy alive and relevant.

Wit and wisdom
This production is the first time Pushkin’s play has been performed uncensored in the English language. It is a dark comedy, intentionally ‘half comic, wholly serious’ the actors told us. 

l-r: Stephen Ventura, Sadie Shimmin, Philip Whitchurch Photo: Ellie Kurttz 
Between each line of wit, there is a truth that could not be spoken in Pushkin’s day. Using humour and poetry and drawing poignant parallels is something he copied from Shakespeare.  

It’s also something that Mark loves to do with Save Shottery, but I must admit to censoring him too much and bowing down too readily to requests from SBT to amend what we’ve said. If two literary giants enjoyed playing with words to get around the censors and get their message out, why shouldn’t Save Shottery?  

Our 2013 plans
  • I promise not to censor Mark in 2013!
  • We look forward to quoting Shakespeare with more tongue in cheek on our #shakespearetweetoff on twitter.  We’ll let you read between the lines and come to your own conclusions.
  • We will keep up the pressure on the SBT to be more transparent.
  • We hope to make more use of visuals and photography in our campaigning.
  • We also plan to hit our target of 1463 signatures on the Save Shottery petition (the year Anne Hathway’s Cottage was first built) by 23 April, Shakespeare’s birthday. If you’ve not already signed our petition, please click on the link and do so now.  Thank you.

Boris Godunov is on at the Swan Theatre until 30 March – tickets available. The World Elsewhere photographic exhibition is free and runs until 3 March 2013.

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