Post-colonial drama

Plays

The Black Album

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Religion is for the benefit of the masses, not for brain-box types like you. Those simpletons require strict rules for living, otherwise they would still think the earth sits on three fishes. But you mind-wallahs must know it's a lot of balls.

An Asian kid from Kent goes to college in London and teams up with a sympathetic group of anti-racists. But it's 1989, the year of the fatwa, and as Shahid begins a hedonistic affair with his lecturer, his radical Muslim friends want to steer him away from the decadence of the West.

We're not blasted Christians. We don't turn the other buttock. We will fight for our people who are being tortured anywhere - in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, East End!

Hanif Kureishi's witty stage adaptation of his strikingly prescient and acclaimed novel The Black Album humorously considers how the events of 1989 have shaped today's world, where fundamentalism battles liberalism.

A co-production with Tara Arts, The Black Album premiered at the National Theatre, London, in July 2009.

Cloud Nine

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Churchill’s wickedly comic and compassionate study of sexual politics glimpses the relationships of a family and their lovers, with an interval of twenty-five years of their lives, and around a hundred years of history.

Highlighting the parallels of sexual and colonial oppression, the first act is set in a British colony in Africa in Victorian times. Clive is the traditional colonial patriarch, proud of his perfectly domesticated wife and black servant (‘played by a man’ and ‘played by a white’ respectively), and striving conscientiously to ensure his son and daughter play with gender appropriate toys. But furtive adultery and secret homosexuality threaten to subvert the moral order of the household.

The second act finds some of the same characters living in 1979, twenty-five years older and played by different actors, finding new liberations in bisexuality and polyamory, but finding new anxieties about gender and fulfilment. The intricacies of these relationships and the play’s doubling create a complex and moving account of the multiplicity of individual sexualities.

Cloud Nine was first performed in 1979 at the Dartington College of Arts, before touring and transferring to London.

A Passage to India

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Before deciding whether to marry Chandrapore's local magistrate, Adela Quested wants to discover the "real India" for herself. Newly arrived from England, she agrees to see the famous Marabar Caves with the charming Dr Aziz. In the heat and darkness of a cave, Adela is attacked, and the fragile structures of Anglo-Indian relations collapse as Aziz is brought to trial for assault. It is a sensitive and profound story which exposes the absurdity, hysteria and depth of cultural ignorance that existed in British India.

Forster’s classic novel of disconnection and prejudice in 1920s India, adapted by Martin Sherman, is a highly theatrical, humorous and faithful version for the stage.

Dramatic texts and performances described as ‘postcolonial’ are generally understood to be those produced in countries that were formerly possessions of the European empires. In the English-speaking world the main focus in postcolonial studies, including drama and theatre studies, has inevitably been on the wide range of national cultures that emerged from the British empire. These include the various colonies, protectorates, and such like that made up Britain’s African empire; some of the islands of the West Indies, particularly Jamaica and Trinidad; India; and the white-led dominions of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Other former colonies could also be considered in this context, notably of course Ireland but also Malta and some of Britain’s former possessions in the South Pacific. Though some commentators use the term ‘postcolonial’ to embrace everything of significance since the beginning of the colonial period, the word applies most obviously to the body of drama in English that began to be generated in the immediate post World War Two period. In India, Africa and the West Indies this corresponds with the period of decolonisation, culminating in formal declarations of independence in 1947 for India and the late 1950s and early ‘60s elsewhere. But even in the ‘old’ Commonwealth, where political independence had been gained much earlier, it was only in the twenty or so years following the end of the war that a more confidently assertive cultural nationalism gathered strength and theatres – and the drama performed within them – gradually ceased to be so dominated by overseas imports.

For the first generation of postcolonial dramatists, a primary function of their writing and activity as directors and producers was to create a national body of drama that could culturally support the political process of nation-building. This was a project that included identifying and helping eradicate the damaging effects of the colonial experience, but also, simultaneously, of retrieving and re-presenting indigenous histories, the social and cultural traditions of the people, their own narratives and discourses. In plays like Dream on Monkey Mountain and A Dance of the Forests, the West Indian playwright Derek Walcott and the Nigerian dramatist Wole Soyinka reflected on the challenges facing their new nations in dramaturgies that combined their authors’ sophisticated knowledge of European and American models acquired during their university educations and sojourns abroad with indigenous traditions of performance and storytelling. In South Africa, in the intensifying grip of the apartheid system, the earliest plays of the white playwright Athol Fugard emerged from his acquaintance with black township life of the late 1950s and the young black intellectuals and performers based in them. Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1955) marked a breakthrough in the decolonisation of the Australian theatre but the radical change there, as in Canada and New Zealand, came in the 1960s and ‘70s when a new generation of theatre venues and playwrights, often taking their inspiration from the experimentalism of the American and British ‘alternative’ theatre of the ‘60s, introduced what audiences and critics recognised as genuinely contemporary, vernacular visions of local and national experience.

Until the introduction of majority democratic government in 1994, South African theatre was dominated by the desire to resist and protest against the effects – political, economic and social – of the apartheid regime. In the process plays such as Sizwe Bansi is Dead, The Island, Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act, ‘Master Harold’. . . and the boys, Woza Albert and Sophiatown gained an international reputation for themselves, their creators and for the quality and political significance of theatre in South Africa as a whole. Elsewhere on the continent the political failures and continuing economic decline, and the prevalence of war and civil disturbance, led to a serious drama that has consistently focused on issues of political and moral leadership, as for example in the work of Soyinka, Ola Rotimi and Femi Osofisan in Nigeria, Mohammed ben Abdallah in Ghana, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and his collaborators in Kenya, and Sony Labou Tansi in Congo. The place of women and issues of sexuality, religion, deprivation and the role of the family have been dramatised in the work of female dramatists such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Werewere Liking and Tess Onwueme as well as by a younger generation of male playwrights. Similar themes have been broached by ‘minority’ playwrights in the old Commonwealth countries (for instance, the Aboriginal Jack Davis in Australia and the native Canadian Tomson Highway) as well as by companies such as the feminist collective Sistren in Jamaica.

In the course of the last half century, postcolonial theatre in English has become much more widely available, studied and seen internationally, and in their own countries playwrights and practitioners have generally created a much stronger national infrastructure and environment for their work. If for white Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders there is now a secure national theatre culture that barely existed in the 1950s, there are still major challenges facing ‘postcolonial’ writers and practitioners elsewhere. Even a relatively developed African economy like Nigeria has a long way to go in establishing the kind of facilities and productivity that theatre practitioners there would like to enjoy. Local publication of drama texts is either unknown or limited. Schools, colleges and universities often lack twenty-first century resources for theatre, even though they have remained central to the development of serious drama in English. The popularity of other media - television of course, but also the flourishing of the indigenous video drama industry in Africa – has been a challenge to live theatre of every kind. But while so many people in postcolonial nations remain mired in poverty, and at the mercy of corrupt and ineffective leaders, the need for a theatre that provides, in Soyinka’s words, a ‘voice of vision’ for the future of the nation is likely to ensure its continuing dynamism in the years to come.