Farewell South Africa, keep waving that flag

It’s our last show of Extra-Ordinary tomorrow morning and then we leave Grahamstown. It has won an award, receiving glowing reviews and made audience scream with laughter and quietly cry.

Kids are still running up to Dave in the street and shouting- I know you I know you, where is your bottom half?

The show has made a huge impact on this national festival, its artists and to the people of the town. Glorious thing.

Extra-Ordinary is going on to Cape Town to play the Baxter Theatre for a performance on Tuesday but I am away to the UK because I’ve got rehearsals coming up.

I love South Africa. Partly because of the associations it has for and of my wife but also because it is constantly astounding, vainglorious in its ambition and always generous.

I have had the time of my life travelling to India and South Africa, seen things I never could have imagined and had a chance to think afresh about some things I’ve been looking at for quite some time.

I go back to the UK for a busy month; I’ve got a new version of The Wind in the Willows by James Phillips to rehearse for the NSDF to be performed at the Latitude Festival first and then The Knowledge Emporium- a new Slung Low project with the Gate Theatre, London.

Nestled somewhere in there is giving a speech at Shift Happens. I’ve been thinking a lot about that during my travels and thinking a lot about how these experiences might influence my understanding of my own world.

Some things have continued to resonate, presented themselves repeatedly in the most unexpected of places. It seems to me that those things point the way to that understanding, and more immediately to the content of my speech.


Wherever I have gone, no matter how different every aspect might be from anything I understand or known, story has been present. More than that, the communal need for story has been present and clear to me even when I could not communicate with anyone else beyond smiling like a loon. This desire people have- no matter how far removed their lives from anything I might term comfortable- to perform stories for each other has been clear in every community I have been welcomed in to.

And the other thing that has become increasingly clear to me as I have wandered and wondered around the place is that whilst you would struggle to find a sensible person in UK theatre who believes that Shift isn’t needed, there can be so little freedom in the terms of engagement. I think the clarity in this realisation has come from often being far from anything I could recognise from my own industry structure (funding, theatres, partners, audience, box office, marketing et al).

The discussions I have been having over the last couple of years about new ways of thinking, new ways of working have been a little like sitting down with a production budget with a bad producer- it’s all been promised, carved up, is not negotiable the first time you get to see it. We have so many sacred cows, so many things that we KNOW have to be the case, so many things that I don’t examine but accept, assuming there has to be a reason for why they are there.

Do something new but so it fits in the hole the old left.

I met Marcus who runs Shift Happens just before I came away a month ago. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the best way to make a shift happen is outside of the existing structures, it forces it’s way in from the outside.

I’ve been to a number of places where a supportive structure (in my terms of buildings, funding, local government, ACE) simply doesn’t exist. I am not sure I am willing to surrender our system- I don’t like the look of how hard it looks to work without one.

In any case I am not quite there yet with clarity. But somehow all these things are connected; through Kolkata, Bengal, Grahamstown and home.

Thanks for keeping me company as I crawl towards a conclusion. Miles to go.

So to pack. There’s a bunch of weasels somewhere that need telling what to do.



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