Review: The Women of Troy ~ theatre notes

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: The Women of Troy

The Women of Troy by Euripides, adapted by Tom Wright and Barrie Kosky, directed by Barrie Kosky. Designed by Alice Babidge, lighting by Damien Cooper, musician Daryl Willis, sound design by David Gilfillan. With Robyn Nevin, Melita Jurisic, Arthur Dignam, Natalie Gamsu, Queenie van der Zandt, Jennifer Vuletic, Patricia Cotter and Kyle Rowling, Giorgios Tsamoudakis and William Larkin. Sydney Theatre Company presented by Malthouse Theatre, Merlyn Theatre, until November 22.

Sophocles is supposed to have remarked of Euripides that, while Sophocles portrayed men as they ought to be, Euripides showed them as they are. It's an observation that goes to the heart of his drama. While Sophocles and Aeschylus wrote heroic tragedy, Euripides was concerned with the everyday: his characters were often the despised and marginalised, the women, children, slaves and functionaries caught in the unforgiving machinery of larger events. Euripides was, in fact, western drama's first realist.

Yet even on Euripides's terms, The Women of Troy is an odd play. For all the archaic beauty of the original text, it has an air of unsettlingly modernity. It's a play of almost brutal simplicity that crystallises the traumatic shock of the aftermath of war. Originally part of a full-scale tragic trilogy that looked at different aspects of the war on Troy, The Women of Troy seems to have been a kind of coda, the final comment on the tumultuous events that preceded it. The other two plays are now lost, leaving us this fragment in which nothing happens because the worst already has.


The other thing to note about Euripides is that, for all his mythical framing, he was writing directly about contemporary events. When The Women of Troy was first performed, in 415BC, Athens was mired in the Peloponnesian Wars with Sparta and was about to launch its disastrous expedition to conquer Sicily, an invasion which ended with the humiliating defeat of Athens in 404BC. In the various conflicts, Euripides had ample opportunity to observe the cruelty with which each side treated its civilian captives: most commonly, the men were put to death and the women and children enslaved. Sometimes this happened to entire cities.

Barrie Kosky and Tom Wright's adaptation highlights this realism, bringing Euripides's steady gaze to bear on contemporary events. They've created a production which is probably as close as we can get to an experience of classical tragedy, which looks unblinkingly into catastrophe: from the beginning, its outcome is inevitable and unavoidable. It reveals that this is a play of our time as much as of Euripides, at once true to its ancient roots and opening up its contemporary aptness. And it's bleak indeed: no chink of light pierces the darkness. The emotional effect is cumulative, and ultimately shattering. It's extraordinary theatre.

This two-fold vision of the ancient and the contemporary is evident from the moment you enter the theatre and see that the auditorium is shaped like an amphitheatre. Every seat is draped in white; the fabric is reflective and has a weird effect on the fluorescent lighting, which is already alienating and harsh. We look down on a naked stage, which is dominated by a huge back wall constructed of old lockers, stacked like bricks up to the ceiling.

It begins with a figure draped in black and crowned in a tiara being pushed onto the stage on a flatbed trolley by a guard. The guard is wearing a white mask, like those worn by people who deal with corpses, which is subtly configured to look like the masks on Hoplite helmets worn by Greek soldiers. The woman - for we know at once it is a woman - is standing in the pose made famous through the photograph taken in Abu Ghraib, balancing precariously, her arms stretched out, trembling with strain, on either side. The guard (Kyle Rowling) takes a photograph with his mobile phone, and then begins to strip the woman's finery - her rings, her bracelets, her necklace, her tiara - putting them in a clear plastic bag. He leaves her face draped, anonymous and blind, helpless, until he also takes her sumptuous dress.

At last she is revealed as Hecuba (Robyn Nevin), former Queen of Troy, standing in her shift on a cardboard box as ordered by the guard, her face bruised and bloodied, her hair shorn. Then the guard leaves and wheels in the other women, also cowled in black: also brutalised, anonymous, stripped of all civic rights as they are of their clothes. They are the theatrical image of what Giorgio Agamben called "naked life", the "state of exception" that defines the sovereign power of the State.

What follows is the summary allocation of the women - in particular, Hecuba's daughters - as spoils of war. Some have been distributed to the Greek soldiers by lot, some will be shot. The play simply consists of the women waiting to discover their fate, and finishes when we know what happens to each of them.

The adaptation hacks what is already a minimal play to its bones, hewing closely to its original dramaturgy. Tom Wright's language is chillingly effective: utterly plain, with the weight of tragic necessity in every word. Basically, three things occur: Cassandra - the virgin cursed with second sight by Apollo after she refused his advances - is taken away and given to Agamemnon. The heavily pregnant Andromache, who enters with her son Astynax (Giorgios Tsmamoudakis or William Larkin) is sent to be the slave of Achilles, who killed her husband Hector, and finds that her small son is to be murdered. And Helen of Troy, whose abscondment with Paris started the whole thing, is given a short trial by Menelaus (Arthur Dignam) and Hecuba, and condemned. These three women are played by Melita Jurisic, making the play effectively a duet between Nevin and Jurisic.

This brutal reality is punctuated by singing, a diverse range of music which includes Dowland, Mozart, Bizet and Slovenien folk songs. The music is a lament for everything that the action of the play denies and destroys - love, beauty, harmony - and is the single human expression remaining to the women.

As in conventional Greek tragedy, the violence occurs off-stage, a most effective means of engendering imagination. We hear off-stage screaming and gunshots, and we see the fear before it and the effect afterwards - most desolately when the half mad Cassandra is raped in one of the lockers by the guard and returns, her bloodstained pants around her ankles, hobbling and violated, babbling incoherently of her marriage to Agamemnon, or when the blood-drenched corpse of the little boy is carried onto the stage.

This production is particularly effective in how it exploits the banality of atrocity. One aspect of torture is how it transforms ordinary objects, even household items, into instruments of pain. Here there is a rather grim moment when the guard walks across the stage, fiddles in a tool box and returns with a huge awl. We have no idea what he is going to use it for, and don't want to imagine. When the women are allocated, they are put in cardboard boxes which are sealed with masking tape and wheeled off, reinforcing their dehumanised status as cargo, mere trophies of war whose identities are not only erased but irrelevant.

What carries the grief and crushing inevitability of the horror enfolding these women is the performances. As Hecuba, an old woman witnessing the destruction of her life, Nevin is the lynchpin of the play: she is present on stage all through, and she is the medium through which we experience the tragedy. This is an unmissable performance: that voice vibrates in your bones, raging, lamenting, sorrowful, utterly broken and defeated and yet stubbornly refusing to be demeaned, even in this ultimate degradation. Melita Jurisic in her three roles is a brilliant foil, the hysteric counterpoint to Nevin's stoic refusals.

Perhaps what is most impressive about this production is its refusal to reach for easy theatrical manipulations. The contemporary allusions are never gratuitous: rather, they emerge as inevitable aspects of the reality this play is revealing. It's heartbreaking, but Kosky's restraint means that the effect goes deeper than tears. His directorial tact represents the reality of war without cheaply exploiting it: this seems to me to be a production of exemplary honesty, that openly and without showiness acknowledges its own artifice and by doing so reinforces the horrific realities behind it. It's a cry of grief, a keening, that resonates in its own present and then leaves us to deal with the aftermath. Because the worst part about it is that you know that it's true.

Picture: Melita Jurisic as Helen and Robyn Nevin as Hecuba in The Women of Troy. Photo: Tracey Schramm


31 comments:

Matthew said...

I hate to be the first one to comment because I essentially agree with you.

Nevertheless, some thouhts:

"At last she is revealed as Hecuba..."

Really? It seemed to me she was revealed as Nevin. Obviously it was always going to be her, but still, gasp, etc. Robyn Nevin! In Sydney in particular, it was Kosky's treatment of Nevin that was so striking in the first scene, or at least it was to those among the audience who gave a good goddamn. Robyn Nevin! It is important to note: the play is as much about subverting or perverting the politics of Australian theatre as it is about anything else. "Watch me brutalise Robyn Nevin," he seems to be saying. "I'm going to poke her with this stick."

"This production is particularly effective in how it exploits the banality of atrocity."

Haven't tracts on the so-called banality of atrocity become a bit banal by now?

I liked the piece very much, by the way.

Chris Boyd said...

it was Kosky's treatment of Nevin that was so striking in the first scene

Maybe to you, mate! Nevin has never been afraid of roles in which she's been asked to play ugly, old, deranged or traumatised. (Often all at once.)

It seems to me that she's had a tough time finding directors prepared to push her, but don't make the mistake of assuming she doesn't want to be pushed...

Or have I totally missed your point?

Alison Croggon said...

I think you're way off-base there, Matt. Maybe you should come back from the hothouse gossip of Sydney... Why should Kosky give a toss about the politics of Australian theatre? Aren't there more interesting politics to grapple with? The only thing about the production that "subverted" Australian theatre was its insistence on being this pure, uncompromising, single act of theatre. And if Kosky cast Nevin, you can be sure it's because he wanted that actor in that role.

Plus what Mr Boyd said.

I'm not sure what you mean by your second point. You mean that war has got old? That it's so 2007? Or even 415BC? That there ought to be some new thing to say about it? What if there isn't? What if it's just that truth, which is the same as it was 2500 years ago?

When the Greeks gathered for the Dionysian Festival, they knew all the stories already. It wasn't a surprise that Troy fell, or that Cassandra was taken to Agamemnon (they would have also known what happened when Agamemnon got home) or that the child was murdered. Surprise wasn't the point. Something else was.

kate m said...

I saw it and agree with everything you say Alison, one of the few times the word "great" can be accurately used to describe a production. And Matthew needs to get out more. If he never saw Robyn Nevin as Miss Docker in "Cheery Soul," arguably her best work before this, then he wouldn't know how fully she is willing to commit to playing a grotesque when need be. And I agree with Boyd, I think it is a dearth of brave, highly creative directors that knocks the rough edges off performances, not the actor. Kosky was quoted as saying he has waited twenty years for the chance to return to Australia and direct Nevin--now we see why.

Til said...

Alison, I agree completely with what you said especially regarding the play's most terrifying element: that we know this really does happen.
For me there were elements of Kane's Blasted in this peice in it's raw and savage depiction of the efects of violence and brutality. Like the reaction to Blasted I imagine there will be some people who dissmiss Women Of Troy as purely shock value. But as you pointed out the hurt goes deeper. Underneath our disgust at what goes on in the course of this play there is the conspicuous truth: that war is reality, and that only the priveleged few who have no expereience of it have the luxury of denying it.

Matthew said...

"Maybe to you, mate!"

No, not to me. "To those among the audience who gave a good goddamn," and there plenty. There was gasping and whispering when the woman under the hood was revealed to be Nevin, for crying out loud, as though that was somehow surprising.

Maybe Melbourne audiences are more mature about such things. People in Sydney were wetting themselves.

"Why should Kosky give a toss about the politics of Australian theatre?"

I don't suppose he should. (Perhaps I shouldn't have said that the play is as much about that as anything else. That's a little bit over the top, you're right, and it does the impression that I missed the point.) I do suppose he likes to shock on occasion, however, to stir what's in his audience's marrow. Obviously he wouldn't have cast Nevin if he hadn't wanted her in the role, but I also think that once he did so he would have been aware of her power as a signifier. Maybe not in Melbourne, but certainly up here. I'm just saying. I think the piece works beyond this, obviously, but it was certainly one of the things swirling around in the air up here.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Matt - If that is so, I'm awfully glad I don't live in Sydney. Surely the audience's imagination can't have been wholly colonised and trivialised by celebrity culture? Surely some people have heard of "plays"? And where does that leave Nevin as an actor, which she is first, last and probably middle as well?

I'd be astonished if Kosky cast Nevin to give the audience the frisson of seeing the former AD of the STC (or whatever she is as "signifier" - I thought she was famous because she can act) being brutalised. There's nothing in the production that suggests any motivations so trivial.

Jana said...

I disagree so much.

I respect the craft - I think it's well-made and all that. But I don't remember the last time my initial disliking of a performance built into full-scale fury by the next day.

Well. Perhaps The Large Attendance in the Antechamber. But that's another story.

Matthew said...

I'm not sure if I'm expressing this incorrectly or not, Ms C, but you seem to be almost offended by what I'm suggesting. I will try to be a little clearer. What I'm not saying is that the entire evening was about watching the STC's former AD get knocked about. What I'm saying is that the reveal at the start of the production had an effect on the Sydney audience that was to some extent borne of the fact that the actress was who she is. To say Nevin has no signifying function (and I am sorry for introducing the cold and unpleasant language of structuralism into the discussion) is disingenuous. Everyone has a signifying function. Beyond her skills as an actress, it means something to have Nevin to play Hecuba, just as it means something to put a body - any body - on a box and recreate imagery from Abu Ghraib. Nevin is an image just as those photographs are. This doesn't mean she's not also an actress, and a supremely talented one to boot. Clearly this is the case: her performance as Hecuba, for the most part, is marvelous. You seem to be upset that I am suggesting Kosky was in any way interested in playing with the audience in the way that he did when he had much more important concerns. Frankly, I don't see how having important concerns precludes referencing something as petty as theatrical politics, even momentarily, especially when to do so brings that pettiness into such sharp relief.

But, to be fair, I may be wrong. Sydney opening nights are incredibly vacuous. You're lucky you don't live here.

Anonymous said...

'If that is so, I'm awfully glad I don't live in Sydney.'

Are you 'awfully' glad, Alison? Drifting into pomposity, methinks...

I am getting ever so slightly tired of the self-congratulatory Arts in Melbourne, the masturbation fest which is the MIAFF - golly, to have so much serious ART, and such wide-ranging seriously considered commentary!

And the 'tracts on the banality of evil' - he was clearly referring to the repeated and zeitgeisty use of that phrase, Alison.

'This play is about war, not silly Sydney politics!'

No!?

Ross said...

Matthew--perhaps I am being provocative, but to follow your argument through--are you implying that the "signifier" of choosing Nevin to play the Queen whose once-glorious empire has been destroyed by vandals is a statement on the current state of affairs at STC? From any other director perhaps, but I don't think Kosky gives one second's thought to the internecine micro dramas of Sydney theatre. It's why he left this country. I think he just wanted the best actress in the country to play a tour de force classical role. Can we at least agree on that?

Jana said...

Hey, Anon, we like Sydney very much. We're just happy we don't have to live there.

Alison Croggon said...

Anon, there's nothing more boring than a Sydney/Melbourne dingdong. If you were reading carefully (which anonymous commenters never seem to do) you would have seen the qualifier at the beginning of the sentence - "if that is so..." It's Matt who's claiming something about Sydney audiences, not me. You could have said that Sydney audiences aren't like that. After all, The Women of Troy is a Sydney show, not a Melbourne one. Instead you tell me that taking art seriously (or liking serious art) means that you're a wanker. Ok then, I'm a wanker. A pompous wanker, even. There's plenty of shockjocks who will agree with you.

(Also, just because it's irritating: I didn't actually use the "zeitgeisty phrase" the banality of evil. I wrote banality of atrocity, and was drawing on Elaine Scarry rather than Hannah Arendt.)

Matt, it did offend me - not personally, I hasten to add - in part because, as Ross pointed out, it's such an inane response to a piece of work that so clearly doesn't have that kind of agenda. Kosky isn't 18 any more and the world is a little bigger and more urgent than Sydney theatre politics.

It's one thing to note an audience response, quite another to leap to the conclusion that Kosky deiberately and provocatively set out to engender that response. I simply didn't see that level of cynicism - because it's cynical to cast an actor because of who they are rather than because of what they do - in that production.

But what actually offended me was the disrespect such an attitude implies towards Nevin, and by extension towards the art of acting. I think Kosky respects his actors as fellow artists - that's why he's able to get such remarkable performances. Erasing an artist's work by enclosing her in the celebrity of "Robyn Nevin" is deep disrespect, and I simply don't believe that Kosky is interested in doing that. Yes, Nevin is a star: but on stage, and in that role, she's working, and it's (sorry Anon) serious work.

The fact that such erasures, large and small, are common in our culture doesn't mean they shouldn't be resisted. And yes, these things are why Kosky works in Europe, where some basic things can be assumed. And why that will continue to happen with our best artists. The present destruction of ANAM is not exactly an encouraging sign, and is part of the same disrespect, the same inability to value to work of artists.

Jana, at least you're consistent in loathing the most brilliant shows around...

Anonymous said...

Blah blah blah.

My issue is with you taking Matthew's dumb comment so seriously and going on about Sydney audiences. It's not Sydney audiences. It's Matthew.

And I did read your response carefully, thanks Ms School Marm. And I did see your carefully positioned qualifier 'If that is so,' yet I still think you are pompous.

I do not have the sensibilities of a shockjock.

And thankyou Alison, I'm aware of Elaine Scarry - it was a mistake - made, no doubt, as I am not sufficiently serious.

Another mistake worth noting is that Jennifer 'Vutelic' does not exist, whereas Jennifer 'Vuletic' - does.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for the subbing note. Duly corrected.

I answered all your points in this post in the post before it.

Anonymous said...

I would like to apologise for my behaviour of late.

I have joined Miscreants Anonymous. I will be cured.

Alison, I have no idea what you look like, so I have no way of knowing if you look like Kim Gyngell in a wig or not. That was pure fancy - as were my suicide attempts.

I do however loathe Melbourne and all the dour sops who live there.

But - one step at a time.

adam broinowski said...

Times they are confusin'. A very thought-provoking production. Just to add some things:
Giorgio Agamben's 'bare (nuda) life' refers to those deprived of all rights which he attributes to the camps of the Nazi state, a state which has been likened to the 'illegal combatants' in Guantanamo. Agamben's 'state of exception' refers to the suspension of the law during which a sovereign power (like the US) can extend its jurisdiction through violence and determine who is bare life and who is a citizen. Yet, it is deeply ironic that this production attempts to universalize the suffering via a Greek play and a WWII imagination cleverly decorated with quotidian aesthetics. While suffering may be universal, and the singing beautifully moving, the reasons for its existence are specific each time. While the Whole
World suffers indirectly, the main victims of this atrocity are Arab and Muslim men, women and children (1,000,000 is it now?). Are the artists really speaking for those who fit the category of 'bare life' now? Do they want to? Can we really hear them?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Adam

Phew, glad you popped up. To my understanding, the state of exception which the state arrogates to itself is the way the state defines its sovereign power, ie a necessary part of its self-defining. And is it so specific? In his essay on Camps (On the Camp?) Agamben defines the camp as potentially anywhere where law is "extraterritorial" - a football stadium, even a gated and supposedly privileged community. So while Guantanamo leaps to mind, so do the refugee camps here in the desert, police cells in remote communities...

Though this play is about war, and at the moment war is in the Middle East (also PNG, Indonesia, the Congo...). I see your point, but I wonder if the play would have been less powerful if it had been more specific. Distancing works powerfully as a lens. Just as Euripides used the legendary history of his time - the War on Troy (a war with Asia Minor) - to think about his contemporary history, so Kosky frames the metaphor for ours. I doubt he would think he was speaking "for" anyone, which perhaps is a deep artistic hubris, and is certainly not making a documentary. Maybe the most he can do is make us understand something that goes beyond the narrative of survival, which is usually how we frame atrocity so we can better cope with it. "Can we really hear them?" I don't know. Can any work of art do that, really? Is it within art's purview? But it seems to me that this might be one way of pricking awake that goes beyond the easily processed images on the nightly news. By no means the only way, perhaps not the best way, but to my mind an honest way.

adam said...

Yes, so nice to be conversing again.
I agree, the work is a stunning piece of theatre, superbly executed.
The industrialized camp/murder system has been used widely, conceived by the British in South Africa I believe. As Wright's script shows, so are many other forms of domination the same then and there as now and here. And the end result is the same, although the scale varies. And some artists choose to be specific, some to be universal via combinations of tragedy, realism, metaphor, documentary etc. I'm not debating which way, nor their right to do so.
Please excuse if I seem insistent, but I'm trying to clarify, for myself perhaps, how this war can be referred to in the name of universal tragedy without seeing the irony of speaking from within the huge walls of 'exceptional' power - Australia included? Is a universal view possible without becoming another tool of war?
Ignorance has purveyed in our media in the construction of 'the enemy' culture which in my opinion has contributed to making the war conduct to which Kosky alludes permissable. Perhaps to not deface that particularity once more is to reclaim responsibility? Reminded of Castellucci's Brussels, the difference was in a deliberate allusion to colonial history.
There are practical reasons to be sure. I was positively engaged, so I am responding.

Alison Croggon said...

They're fascinating and uncomfortable questions, Adam. Jana was asking much the same sort of question about the violence towards women - does representing it so starkly somehow also perpetuate and legitimise is, however unwittingly?

I don't know if there is an answer to that. The problem with not "defacing that particularity" in this case might be the reproduction of a deeper paternalism, "our" ability as colonising powers to "know" and represent the other (which, as you know, is one of the crucial powers of a colonising culture). And thus, reinforcing our power rather than questioning it, by the kind of erasure that presumes to speak "for" the other (a problem women can be quite familiar with). In which case universalisation and metaphor, however problematic, seems a preferable approach to me. The better alternative would be for the "enemy culture" to be allowed a space to speak for itself, one reason why I've published a fair bit of Arabic poetry in translation in Masthead...

I guess the fact is that dealing with this kind of real violence - state and individual - is full of minefields. I do think WOT avoided a lot of them, though.

adam said...

I will definitely have a read of Masthead, correct my ignorance. Sounds great.
On the other front, to not engage for fear of possible paternalism, and to have culture used to justify grossly disproportionate violence could be taking the bait ... it might be that surmounting the walls rather than digging in means being critical of the real reasons for this war. Is this idealistic?

Stephen said...

Hello. Adam and Alison, thanks for those fascinating provocations - which I am still getting my head around. Matthew, the proposition that Barrie would bring a parochial back-reference to a collaborating artist onto his stage beggars belief. Copyright @self for this one. Stephen (EP, Malthouse Theatre, presenter, Women of Troy)

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Stephen - nice to see you here!

Adam - if you are idealistic, so be it. I'm not at all sure that's a bad thing. Can this play be used to justify violence? I think that's a bit of a stretch...

On the broader question of political engagement, I guess every individual artist will determine their own level. In each case, it's worth asking - is it too much? not enough? How much is actually our business? What isn't? What is our level of culpability? You can get extreme and think that it's culpable just to write in English, the colonising language par excellence (and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of other languages.) Myself, I come from a long line of colonists: my ancestry is steeped in the blood of empire. I guess, as Wittgenstein said, one has to begin somewhere...

You can see similar dilemmas in terms of the representation of the Other - and the construction of Otherness itself - in the question of Indigenous politics in art. One school would claim that white Australians have no right to further erase black culture by appropriating it. Others might make more nuanced arguments, or claim that Indigenous culture is like every other culture a legitimate source of artistic inspiration for all of us. I don't think there's an easy answer to any of those questions, and there are compelling arguments for both sides. In any case, the ethical dilemmas and responsibilities are legion.

Inescapable in this one is the fact that Kosky was, at one level, simply making a production of a classical tragedy, which has its own imperatives. There is also a responsibility to art itself which harnesses different duties... art does something, after all, that nothing else does, and isn't simply a mimesis of politics. Does a play critical of the slave culture of classical Greece have purchase on contemporary society? Not in the specifics, for sure, although conquest and colonisation are still very relevant. What matters in this play is the emotional states of the women: that's what we relate to, and what engenders our imagination. I guess that I think, personally, that art can't do some things - it might be profoundly a political act and yet as pure politics it loses its power. As soon as art thinks it can be change, rather than perhaps a cumulative agent for change, it begins to get delusional, and loses sight of its own reasons for being. (The perils of the instrumental).

In connection with this question, I always think of George Oppen, who was a very fine poet and also a committed political activist. According to his stern ethics, he decided that the demands of his two vocations were too contradictory, the demands of each too much in conflict, and in fact he didn't write poems for years, deciding instead to throw his energies into activism. He started writing again as an old man. That seems to me an honourable decision which few people have the courage to make so clearly.

I'm hoping this makes some sense. In trying to summarise some pretty complex thoughts about all this - it's a question that I've thought about with quite a lot of anguish - I can't help feeling that I'm speaking in shorthand.

adam said...

Thanks again for the reference.
Complexities abound but I think the root of the problem for me is how to recognize complicity.
Art, by supporting the values of the culture which are then used to justify violence - can become a weapon against the maker's intentions.
To be specific: the abuse of the women of Afghanistan was concentrated in media images, here and in the US, in concentrated fashion at the inception of the War On Terror, and continuing to a lesser extent afterwards. The real geopolitical reasons were concealed with a constructed cultural debate.
No matter how valid that debate is, and it must continue, an alchemy was performed wherein the public was further persuaded to tolerate/permit/support devastating violence to be visited upon Afghanistan. Not just irrational but illegal in my humble opinion.

Alison Croggon said...

Funny how those media images have shifted (to Somalia now) as the cruel joke on Afghani women gets crueller... I recognise and acknowledge the argument, Adam. I read something similar from Zizek recently, where he was examining the western culture of Action - Do Something Now! - and how that fed directly into the mechanisms that perpetuate those same atrocities (economic as well as warlike). He's talking George Soros, Bill Gates, Bob Geldof etc etc... Art maybe, in calling for reflection rather than action, might do less harm than some other activities. Of course, the logical end of all these recognitions of complicity, necessary tho they are, is to make nothing at all...

Alison Croggon said...

...actually, I'm a bit confused at this point. The media coverage on freeing women from the tyranny of the Taliban concentrated on enlightened western attitudes as opposed to tyrannical fundamentalist repression. It was discredited right from the start - the rights of women got shunted aside pretty fast right when the western forces allied with the northern Afghani warlords, responsible in some cases for decades of atrocity. Also, not unincidentally, that coverage implicitly appropriated for the west the credit for home-grown Afghani resistance by groups like RAWA. This play rehearses a different sort of argument, that is more self-directed. I'm not quite sure how it applies...

adam said...

Yes.
I haven't read that one of Zizek's but Welcome to the Desert..., On Violence I have.
I'm not exactly sure I understand what you mean here by 'self-directed' or George Oppen (wasn't he scapegoated as Un-American and then won a Pulitzer?).
George B's rhetoric of 'human dignity' (and not 'rights') and Clinton's 'obliterate' (referred to in this play too), are cynically hypocritical to me. RAWA might have something on it.
It would be very interesting to see an STC production of an Arabic play which looks at this war.
I am interested in how art is manipulated to support a war the artist does not want to support, though.
Becoming aware of this does not prevent the making of art.
Always a pleasure Alison, warmly.

curmudgeon said...

Adam--I wouldn't hold your breath. STC's program seems to be comedy and jolly japes next year. Be sure to wear your red clown nose...

Anonymous said...

I thought the play was fantastic, though even that seems a bit silly to say given how tramatising it was. But who's robyn nevin?

m

tom said...

goodness gracious! if you made it to here I owe you a glass of wine.

I'll buy you 2 if you join the barrie kosky rules club that i intend to start very soon.

and - incidentally - how great was melita jurisic???

tom

Alison Croggon said...

MJ was amazing indeed, Tom. And you owe me two drinks.