l ; Dog days
Philip Parr talks to director Andrew Farrell about finding the humour and humanity in a play about institutionalised racism.
Maybe Maggie‘s fears are justified and Jacques Delors is somehow managing to establish French
i superiority. No sooner has Fifth Estate finished its run with We
: Charles X11. by French playwright Bernard da Costa. than the Traverse jumps on the gallic bandwagon with The Struggle ofthe Dogs and the Black. Written by Bernard-Marie Koltes. the play is a study of colonialism in French West Africa. but as director Andrew Farrell explains. the British premiere will be closer to the author‘s vision than the original 1984 Parisian production.
‘When it was originally produced.’ Farrell recalls. ‘millions ofpounds were spent on the set and it was made into a complete epic play. Koltes felt that it had been turned into a sort of tragedy; very dark. very black. very psychologically dense. And he said at the time. “Well. actually it’s meant to be a comedy". And I think the environment we're doing it in will allow the characters to start to come out. They're not going to be intimidated by a huge set.‘
Set on a construction site. the play revolves around the murder of a black worker by one of his white colleagues. Usually such a situation
‘When individuals speakto each other, humour comes out; the kind of humour you get in
would lead to the paying of nominal compensation to the worker‘s family and the whole matter being swiftly
! swept under the carpet. But. just for once. somebody decides to stand up to the colonialists — the dead man's
1 ‘ltsounds like there are no laughs at all in this play.‘ admits Farrell.
‘ 'and within it. the tension builds and builds and builds. and there comes a l point when it‘s totally unbearable.
l But you know from the beginning of I the play that something terrible is
i going to happen. In a way it‘s very
! Greek. lfsomebody kills your
( ‘ k . e... " .z’ 4 . ‘u‘x‘na '2. mi - . o O o
father, you have to avenge your father‘s death. There are elements of fate in it. elements of fatalistic things going to happen. a sense ofdoom.
‘But in another way. again like a Greek play. because you know what the markers are. you know what‘s going to happen next. you can spend more time on the telling of the story. It‘s the words that you use and the situations. the tensions you bring out. The way you tell the story is more important than what happens. That allows you more time to explore the way that the characters speak to each other. And it allows them more time to become complete people. They‘re not caricatures. they‘re individuals and when individuals speak to each other. humour comes out; the kind of humour you get in desperate situations.‘
Although his work has been performed consistently on the continent. Koltes (who. out of principle. always included black characters in his scripts) is little known in Britain. Could this be because the French idea of
colonialism was so different to the British?
‘1 don't agree with that at all.‘ challenges Farrell. ‘The Europeans. although there was a slight difference in the way they governed. were basically there to exploit. They're there to get rich. to make money. lfyou look at the South
‘He’s there to kill somebody just like the white guy did before him.’
Africans. the Afrikaaner. say “This is our land. we've made it what it is. we‘re God’s chosen people.“ They‘re saying that but you just think “What a load ofbollocks." It's like me saying “I‘m Scottish." I‘m not Scottish. 1 never can be. It doesn‘t matter how much I want to be: it's something that I can never achieve.‘
From the way Farrell discusses The Struggle of The Dogs and The Black you might think that this is a straight-down-the-middle political testimony. But again the director disagrees. ‘I suppose that it is a piece
ANN ROSS PATERSON
j of political theatre in that it‘s an
indictment ofcolonialism. But it also works as a thriller and. to a certain extent. it‘s also a play about love. or what is the nature of love. But what we‘re trying to do is realise the script. We’re not trying to say “This is a piece ofpolitical theatre!” ll'l wanted to talk about politics I'd organise a debate. not produce a play.
‘In a play. you see the characters before you and then you realise your own morality and it tells you what's right and wrong. [don‘t want this to be about a noble black man and the whites are all bastards and the blacks are all good guys. It‘s stupid. bland. meaningless crap if you do it like that. I‘m trying to get real. whole people on stage. The brother is not some sort ofsqueaky clean. gallant black man. lle’s there to kill somebody just like the white guy did before him.‘ (Philip Parr)
The Struggle of The Dogs and The Black. Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh. from Thurs 25 July and lhroughou! The Edinburgh Festival.
50 The List 12— 25 July 1991