As was possibly inevitably the case, a hell of a lot of questions were thrown at the audience at Walking the Tightrope: The tension between art and politics, questions that we may have heard many times before, but have not had properly answered. The 12 five-minute plays at Theatre Delicatessen in Farringdon see us wade through the murky and oft stinking world of arts funding and how states use the arts to blunt otherwise toxic foreign reputations, to questions relating to what art actually is and what it can be, what we do and think when blatant exploitation is paraded as artistic spectacle.
Within the 12 plays there were some that I found more interesting than others. Tim Fountain’s Beyond the Fringe and Caryl Churchill’s Tickets Are On Sale Now both studied the issue of Israeli-funded arts projects (see the furore around the Tricycle’s decision to ask the UK Jewish Film Festival to seek alternative funding) with nuance and delicacy, with its use of ‘positive association’ – ‘culture as propaganda’.
Gbolahan Obisesan’s Re:Exhibit (see the defunct Exhibit B exhibition at the Barbican, shut down following public cries – or should that be tweets – of racism) was biting in its condemnation of white appropriation of black struggle, of white artists and producers ‘telling black people what they should feel empowered about’.
An important point, yet I could see very few BAME audience members in the space, with even the progressive Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut appearing to fit the perception that theatre is still the bastion of the pale and stale. Further to this, in some pieces I wasn’t quite sure who the audience was meant to be, other than those already well-versed in the London theatre scene. Mark Ravenhill’s What Are We Going to Do About Harry? about arts internships was clever and witty, but in-jokes about Simon Stephens and ‘knowing Rupert at the Almeida’ is hardly going to bring in a new or different generation of audience.
The week’s run sees a different post-show discussion each night. I’d really recommend staying for these, as this is when the night seems to properly get going. Or maybe we should be having these discussions more generally, and focus on making political theatre, rather than theatre about political theatre, instead.
Walking the Tightrope: The tension between art and politics plays at Theatre Delicatessen until 1 February. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre Delicatessen website.