CHRIS THURMAN: Academic rigour meets creative practice in Lifescapes
'Academic politics' can, after all, be 'creative'
Some years ago, I interviewed director Janice Honeyman while she and her cast were rehearsing the African Tempest, a co-production of Shakespeare’s play by the Baxter Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Antony Sher was colonialist-mage Prospero, and John Kani was slave-turned-revolutionary (turned forgiving Madiba) Caliban. I had an inkling of the conceptual framing of the production, and — putting my postcolonial scholar’s hat on – ventured to Honeyman that there was a risk that her production, by fitting the play into a paradigm in which African belief systems can accommodate magic and a spirit world lost to secular Westerners, would reinforce the "rational Europe vs irrational Africa" binary. Her reply was not antagonistic, but struck me in its directness: "Academic politics can be anticreative." Sher echoed this view when I pressed him on the topic. "It’s all very well for scholars to comment on these issues, but we’ve got to make the plays work," he said. When the Africa...