Foreign theatre in a foreign land
My name is David Pollendine and I am currently a student at Goldsmiths College studying for an MA in AppIied Drama. I have been involved in performing and creating theatre for the last 20 years in many different contexts all over the world. After the fall of communism I spent 10 years living in the Czech Republic where I worked in schools and universities facilitating young people through drama in various subjects. I now work for the Church Mission Society helping young people to explore contemporary ethical issues and faith through creative arts.

I came to the LIFT living archive with an excitement to discover different types of theatre from so many different contexts and I chose to explore it without any agenda and see where it took me. After 4 months of research, looking at a variety of productions, letters, faxes, scribbled notes, drawings, prop lists and quite a few images one question kept coming back to me:

How did LIFT manage to bring foreign theatre to a foreign context without the productions message being skewed or distorted in some way?

As I looked again at the archive two productions jumped out at me. Could they possibly help me answer this question? Alive from Palestine by Al Kasaba Theatre from LIFT 2001 and The Government Inspector and Three sisters by Katona Joszef from LIFT 1989. Both companies used theatre as a creative tool for survival and as a means to challenge oppressive regimes in their respective countries. Both did this with a clear message and intent to put across in their context. This question was also raised early on by LIFT in correspondence with Al Kasaba about bringing Alive from Palestine to London. Would it be understood here in the same way as Palestine?

This trail will compare and contrast these two productions using both newspaper articles and correspondence from the LIFT archive to assess how their messages were affected.
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Photograph of Alive From Palestine
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One night on October 12th, 2000, a company of actors from Al Kasaba theatre put on a performance of daily events as they were unfolding, out of a "spontaneous need for cultural expression" ( Letter from Abed Al Jubeh to Elyse Dodgson, LIFT Living Archive, Jan 25, 2001) amidst the bombardement of Israeli bombs in Ramallah.

"These performances became in effect the breathing space not only for our artists self expression but also that of our culture."
Letter from Adeb Al Jubeh to Elyse Dodgson, LIFT Living Archive, January 25, 2001

"It became a means of mutual self recognition of our existance in the present time in and a means for making sense, for discovery, for questioning."
Letter from Adeb Al Jubeh to Elyse Dodgson, LIFT Living Archive, Januray 25, 2001
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Company brochure
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This company brochure gives a detailed background of Katona Joszef, setting the theatre in the context of Hungarian politics and history.

"Everyone has a pair of glasses through which they see the world, Ascher says. His task is to get us to rip those glasses off; to see our fear clearly, then move beyond it towards new discoveries."
Barney Bardsley, City Limits, July 20,1989

"Perhaps the sheer foreigness of East European actors as far as English audiences are concerned, helps to provide the illusion of Russian personality and manner with a vividness to which English actors cannot aspire."
Nicholas de Jongh, The Weekend Guardian, June 3-4, 1989
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List of technical and prop requirements
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The props list provides some clues to the style that both the Katona Joszef productions chose with great affect.

"The actors, with the aid of the set and lighting designers achieve an intensity of feeling and atmosphere to which few English productions aspire."
Nicholas de Jongh, The Weekend Guardian, June 3-4, 1989.

"The Government Inspector is set in a contemporary, decrepit environment of metal lockers and pigeon holes, plastic brief cases, cheap brown cardigans, bad haircuts, creaking chairs and mal-functioning machinery."
Michael Coveney, Financial Times, Nov 26, 1988
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Press quotations about The Government Inspector
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Here are listed quotes from press reviews for The Government Inspector.

"In Ascher's version (The 3 Sisters) there is no last promise of a future in which suffering will be justified or explained."
Nicholas de Jongh, The Weekend Guardian June 3-4, 2001

"The company produces a sinister and original ending. When the real Inspector arrives, they kill him."
Robert Hewison, The Sunday Times, July 16,1989

"What is he saying by way of Chekhov? Surely that the triumphal music of the army obliterates the individual voice."
Nicholas de Jongh, The Weekend Guardian June 3-4, 2001

"The new directors took the classics by the throat instead and squeezed new meanings out of archetypal characters and situations."
Barney Bardsley, City Limits, July 20, 1989
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Letter from Abed Al Jubeh, Al-Kasaba Theatre to Elyse Dodgson, Royal Court Theatre
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This letter was written by Adeb Al Jubeh the Artistic Director of Al Kasaba to give Elyse Dodgson from the Royal court some background to the production they were bringing.

"We are used to the idea of theatre as a diversion. Here it is fulfilling a more important function of bringing us the news." Michael Billington, The Guardian, Saturday, June 20, 2001
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Letter from Rose Fenton, LIFT to George Ibrahim, Al-Kasaba Theatre
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This letter from Rose Fenton certainly raised the point that London audiences who would not have had the context of the Palestinians may miscontrue the humour without some explanantion.

"A father sorting through his dead boy's possesions says, I'll give these to your younger brother - I forgot, son, you're my only child." The independent, July 25, 2002"

"A couple dream of having their own mud-floored hut in a refugee camp." The Independent, July 25, 2002

"What these tales offer is an indication of the mordant humour and survival-instinct irony that many Palestinians bring to their occupied lives." Michael Billington, The Guardian, June 30, 01"

"The power of these pieces with the shared lived-through experience of the actors and audiences...in which reality is dealt with through black humour, ironic distancing and wry commentry." Fax, Rose Fenton to George Ibrahim, LIFT Living Archive, May 3, 2001
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Section on Alive from Palestine in LIFT 2001 brochure
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This brochure shows a picture of a bombed out block of flats. Al Kasaba chose to work with masses of newspaper as significant props in their production. "Four huge piles of newspapers shiver and fall away to disclose five men and a woman. Their lives, like the papers, are fragile, at the mercy of shifts in the wind, and the day's news is the news of yesterday and the day before." The Independent, July 25, 2002
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Letter from George Ibrahim, Al-Kasaba Theatre to Rose Fenton, LIFT
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One obvious thing to point out is that while the theatre companies and productions were the same for each performance the audience was not. This perhaps is the main reason for thinking the London audiences may not have received everything as it had been intended. In Alive from Palestine the audience and actors were caught up in an experience of “mutual self recognition.” (Letter from Adeb Al Jubeh to Elyse Dodgson, LIFT Living Archive, Januray 25, 2001) While the London audiences, who were largely not Palestinian, would not have been caught up in this theatrical experience in the same way. Also Katona Joszef In Hungary performed to an audience where the influence of the Soviet Union had been felt by all. This allowed for layers of sub text which could go undetected by London audiences. As one writer put it: “The Government Inspector is a play with all sorts of lines for an audience to read between especially in the Eastern bloc.” Michael Coveney, Financial Times, Nov 26, 1988
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Photograph of Three Sisters rehearsals
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The Katona Joszef theatre company grew up in Hungary under the guidance of two artistic directors Gábor Székely and Gábor Zsámbéki, who were not prepared to dance to the tune of communist interests.

"Though state funded it is clearly ready to bite the hand that supports it."
Robert Hewison, The Sunday Times, July 16, 1989

"Hungary's position as Satelite of the Soviet Union adds piquency to the provincialism that the one play tragically, the other comically, portrays."
Robert Hewison , The Sunday Times, July 16, 1989
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Cast lists for Three Sisters and The Government Inspector
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Katona Joszef used humour as a tool to create more than just laughs.

"I have never experienced so hilarious and chilling a revival as this one."
Michael Coveney, Financial Times, Nov 26, 1988

"The Government Inspector is a play with all sorts of lines for an audience to read between especially in the Eastern bloc." Michael Coveney, Financial Times, Nov 26, 1988

"The Charity Commissioner (Geza Balkay) sports dark glasses and a leather jacket."
Irving Wadle, The Times, July, 1989
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Press release for "Keep Palestinian Theatres Open" event
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This is a press release for an event at the Royal Court to keep Palestinian theatres open."Al Kasaba's Alive from Palestine at the Royal Court...provoked tears and a standing ovation from the audience. In a way that a foreign news report never could, it movingly articulated how people try to live ordinary lives in an extraordinary and desperate situation."Mark Espiner, The Guardian, February 23, 2003"Along with their other meanings, those newspapers, all in Arabic, could represent the barrage of lies and vitriol that passes for journalism...this play does not know the diifference between news and propaganda." The Independent, July 25, 2002
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Letter from Rose Fenton, LIFT to David Mirvish, The Old Vic
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It seems that a foreign perspective could also have been an advantage to help understanding, especially in the ability of an Eastern European actor to capture Chekhov’s and Russian’s “Personality and manner.” (Nicholas de Jongh, The Weekend Guardian, June 3-4, 1989) This writer had certainly seen something a fresh in this production by a Hungarian company that he hadn’t in previous English companies. It could be said that Katona Joszef were in an advantageous position, performing plays from Eastern Europe. In spite of the fact they were in London they were able to, “with the aid of their set and lighting designers achieve an intensity of feeling and atmosphere to which few English productions aspire."(Nicholas de Jongh, The Weekend Guardian, June 3-4, 1989.) Their productions of Chekhov and Ascher were also universally known and performed while at the same time culturally closer to their theatrical and lived experience than ours. This was completely different for Al Kasaba as their material was their own, fresh, contemporary and coming out of each actors own personal life experience. It could never be imitated by an English company and because it was so personal it was more likely to connect the emotions rather than just the intellect. So it “provoked tears and a standing ovation from the audience.” ( Mark Espiner, The Guardian, February 23, 2003) in one production and anger and accusation that it did not “know the difference between news and propaganda.” (The Independent, July 25, 2002) in another.
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