Political theatre festival Mayfesto to look at the August 2011 riots and Arab Spring
Programme features Chalk Farm, Springtime and No Time for Art
The annual Tron festival Mayfesto engages with political struggle from the Egyptian revolution to the riots in England, as Mark Brown discovers
Two years ago the then recently appointed director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Andy Arnold, initiated Mayfesto, a small festival of avowedly political theatre. Like its much-missed Glasgow-wide namesake, Mayfest (which ended, amidst much acrimony, in 1997), the Tron’s programme sought to connect the city’s strong political traditions with its love of theatre.
The 2012 programme is, Arnold says, a more ‘low key’ affair, ahead of its relaunch next year as a city-wide festival, incorporating the likes of the Citizens Theatre, the Arches and Òran Mór. This year, he explains, ‘there are lots of discussions and works-in-progress. There is very little work going on in the main house.’
From the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement, the English riots and the struggle in the UK against the ConDem coalition’s cuts (not to mention the shock by-election victory of George Galloway in Bradford West), there is more than enough on the contemporary political agenda to inspire theatre artists and audiences alike.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Mayfesto programme includes Chalk Farm, a monologue written by Julia Taudevin and Kieran Hurley. The piece takes an intelligent, nuanced and socially sensitive view of the riots that exploded in English cities in August 2011. Expect more insight than was ever offered by the screaming newspaper headlines or the blanket condemnation of the political mainstream (remember, if you will, Labour leader Ed Miliband announcing that he stood ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ with David Cameron against the rioters).
Springtime – by award-winning, Glasgow-based theatre company Ankur Productions – is mindful of the world historic nature of the Arab Spring (a revolutionary process which is, as can be seen in the blood of the Syrian people and the still iron grip of the military junta in Egypt, still very much in its infancy). It will bring together young people from Scotland and the Middle East in an online creative community to collectively devise and, then, perform their work via Skype.
It is, however, a pair of documentary theatre works – devised by young Egyptian artists Laila Soliman and Mustafa Said, and entitled No Time for Art/0 and No Time for Art/1 – which is most intriguing. ‘We’re very lucky to have this young Egyptian company,’ says Arnold. ‘When I read the script, I was very moved by it. It really is theatre of the moment. And, of course, even since it was written, events have changed quite a bit. They [Egyptian revolutionaries] are really under the cosh now.
‘Just seeing a theatre company from Egypt, who have, in a sense, come from the frontline themselves is quite extraordinary.’
When I talk to Soliman on the phone from Cairo, she explains the motivation for the pieces: ‘The official writing of the history of the Egyptian Revolution by the government is completely opposite to what we have experienced ourselves. We have been finding an alternative way of writing history through personal stories. We are also interpreting the role of art in such times of violence and struggle.’
It is crucial, she explains, that people in Scotland and throughout Europe understand that, despite the great sacrifices made by the Egyptian people, their revolution still has much to achieve. ‘I think there is still the perception in Europe that Egypt is in post-revolution times, rather than still going through its revolution … The system has not fallen yet. It is merely its symbolic head [Mubarak] which has gone. The whole regime and system is still the same.’
Mayfesto, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 1–Sat 19 May.