Offstage Theatre, in association with Theatre Uncut present an explosive surgery of freedom of expression. Walking The Tightrope: The Tension Between Art & Politics takes its cue from a platter of controversy served fresh and bloody in 2014. Questions raised by Tricycle Theatre’s refusal to host the Isreali embassy funded UK Jewish Film Festival or sensational boycott of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B have woken the sleeping lion of the theatrical establishment.
With razor sharp irony twelve commissioned plays from the likes of April De Angelis and Neil LaBute contour the check-mate artists often find themselves in on their elusive pursuit of self expression. Excellently paced, they take swift dagger strokes at escalating tension as surprise gives way to laughter and sometimes even agreement.
[IMAGE: Camilla Greenwell] Becci Gemmell and Melissa Woodbridge in What are we going to do about Harry? (Mark Ravenhill)
Directors Cressida Brown and Kirsty Housely have done a superb job in curating pieces which are unified by dramatic excellence as opposed to ideology. Conflicting ideas are scattered through either side of the interval – alluding to South African Apartheid, Isreali Occupation and basic questions of self determination. Walking The Tightrope’s success is precisely this commitment to challenge rather than impose.
We see this most acutely in a concluding panel discussion, where individuals such as David Lan, Artistic Director of Young Vic, have been invited to respond to themes raised by the plays and answer audience questions. As the theatrical intelligentsia attempt to confront some fairly discomforting debates, expect fireworks.
[Image: Camilla Greenwell] Philip Arditti in Sun City (April De Angelis)
Ryan Craig’s Please Forgive Us Whoever You Are and Old Newland by Julia Pascal are standout plays, both performed by the charismatic Stephen Fewell. With brilliant subtlety Julia Pascal weaves a vivid metaphor through Jewish teachings involving the substitution of Rachel for Leah in marriage to Jacob. She channels a comparison to the displacement of peoples across Palestine, Holocaust camps and Ireland through ‘Old Newland’ as he dies not a Jew, an Irishman, a husband or a soldier – but a human being, alone in a hospital. Soaked in memory and conflict, but equalized in vulnerability.
One of the most interesting discussions raised by Walking The Tightrope involves precisely this pressure of the theoretical on the individual. The need to demarcate the claim of the abstract on the personal; including how we as theatre goers relate to power structures that tangibly locate the lives of the individuals who want to perform, write or express themselves. How it silences or sponsors their freedom of speech, pays their rent, informs their work, publicizes it – makes it ‘art’.
[IMAGE: Camilla Greenwell] Naomi Ackie and Stephen Fewell in Old Newland (Julia Pascal)
In light of discourse spurred by the recent tragedy surrounding Charlie Hedbo, Walking The Tightrope is an incredibly important production. As crocodiles gather below and landmines wait ahead, the tightrope between arts and politics is becoming increasingly dangerous – it bellies the need for artists to become philosophers. Thankfully Offstage Theatre has risen to the challenge.
Until Sunday 1st February
Theatre Delicatessen, Farringdon
Tickets from £10