Nicolas Kent

The latest news from the US tour…

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 by Nicolas Kent

The last week in Berkeley was extraordinary – the company were in great spirits, the weather was glorious, and added to that we were playing to full houses. There were a number of talk-backs after the plays, and the audiences were extremely engaged and interesting. The spirit of the 60s certainly has not died in Berkeley, although the homelessness and poverty is alarming: it caused the British Council representative to remark to me that it reminded him very much of his last posting in India. Apparently the divide between rich and poor in America is the greatest of any developed country.

A group of Afghans came to see the plays on the final Saturday, and were enormously grateful that we were doing something about the history of their country, and I was asked to pose for photos with the family – their gratitude was extremely touching, and it was only a shame that somehow not more of the Afghan community seemed to know about our visit – the Bay area has the largest population of Afghans in America – most of whom arrived here during the Russian occupation.

Berkeley Rep have been extraordinarily welcoming throughout, and on the final night they threw a party after the plays, which was a wonderful end of the first long leg of this tour.

On Monday everyone went their separate ways for a three week Thanksgiving break – in part caused by the very late cancellation of the LA leg of tour when the UCLA Live festival was pulled because of the dire state of the Californian economy – I went to LA for a British Council dinner at the Consul General’s residence to celebrate the opening of their LA office, and then on to Washington to explore further the possibilities of a special Pentagon performance in February.

During the week in Washington I was invited to the third ever U.S. conference on Citizen Diplomacy. This was an idea started by Dwight Eisenhower, and this conference had been 2 years in the planning. There were about 500 people attending, and during the plenary lunch I was amazed to hear the main speaker from the Pentagon holding up The Great Game tour as an example of what can be achieved in the field.

Later that week I was invited to a dinner party by General Nicholson in a restaurant on Capitol Hill – he had assembled an interesting guest list: Michael Harwood (an RAF Air Vice Marshal and the U.K. Defence Attache, Barbara Smith from USAID who had served in Afghanistan, Christina Lamb (the Sunday Times US correspondent) and Norine Macdonald who has just been conducting surveys of Afghan opinion on the Nato forces in the country. The conversation naturally turned  to Afghanistan, and it was fascinating to hear Norine’s experience in the field – where she had been conducting a survey of Afghan opinion in the South – especially as she was about to present the findings to the Pentagon later that week. It transpired that the figures supporting Nato’s presence there had risen very slightly but that many Afghans surveyed had not heard of the Twin Towers ,and made no connection between 9/11 and Nato presence in their country when they were shown photographs of the Towers. When the motive of the invasion was explained to them the percentage of those hostile to foreign troops almost halved. Many could not understand why foreign troops, as well as Americans, were there; again when it was explained there was a treaty between nations so that when one was attacked the others had to help defend it (especially if this was explained by comparing it to an individual defending his family) suddenly there was an understanding, and much of the hostility vanished.  It is extraordinary that 9 years into this war these fundamental issues that could win hearts and minds are still left unexplained.

The rest of the 5 days in Washington was incredibly eventful and fascinating. I was taken to lunch by Frank Hodsoll (ex head of National Endowment for the Arts) at the Metropole Club – an old style political gentleman’s club: ties are obligatory, luckily the doorman had a good selection. There I overheard James Woolsey (ex head of the CIA under Clinton) having a conversation about arms control, and rather cheekily I introduced myself and he agreed to be interviewed for the next big Tricycle project. Then on Thursday I was invited to a wonderful Georgetown dinner hosted by Michael & Susan Pillsbury (Michael is a State Department consultant on China and was a key player in US policy in Afghanistan in the 80s) where Michael had very graciously put together some of the leading thinkers and policy advisers on Nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and US foreign policy. At the end of the evening my head was reeling. A wonderful dinner with people so willing and happy to share their expertise – we did not solve the world’s problems but I learnt a lot about China, Iran, Israel and North Korea!

Now on to New York and, no doubt, many fresh adventures!