Great Game

The Last Leg…

Thursday, December 30th, 2010 by Great Game

We arrived in New York on the 29th November. The company reassembling from the Thanksgiving break – some had been back to England, but the majority had been traveling and holidaying in the U.S. I arrived in the afternoon from Washington. The crew were already half-way through the fit-up at the Skirball Theatre on Washington Square. The theatre doubles as a lecture hall for NYU and is somewhat antiseptic and incredibly wide – the width rather dwarfed our set. The very institutional foyer had been enlivened by a wonderful Afghan – Temur – who had followed us from Washington, and set up a stall of Afghan jewellery, carpets and crafts. He did a roaring trade, especially on the trilogy days.

The first week was spent hectically getting used to the space, and New York’s harsh biting cold wind – somewhat akin to what London was experiencing in the first week in December. The first performance on Wednesday took all of us by surprise – the audience, compared to those we had experienced elsewhere, was completely unresponsive; luckily however Oskar Eustis (the Artistic Director of the Public Theater) was immensely supportive – as were the Chair of our Board and Baz Bamigboye who had flown in especially for this opening performance. Somehow we all had not found the right energy for the space but over the next two days things radically improved, and by the weekend everyone had got into their stride. The two weekend press trilogy days were much much more accomplished – the audiences too were incredibly responsive, and we got standing ovations on both days.

Vanessa Redgrave came on the Sunday, and brought with her a reporter from the TV station New York 1, who she insisted should do a long interview promoting the plays – throughout she has been an indefatigable supporter and it has been brilliant having her in New York.

There was great relief after the show on the first Sunday night – the weekend had gone immensely smoothly and everyone seemed to have been really moved by the trilogy. The Public Theater threw a brilliant party for us on the 12th floor in an enormous room with floor to ceiling windows over-looking the Empire State Building. There were warm speeches lavishing us all with praise from Oskar Eustis, and Ben Ockrent (one of the writers) had brought the Liberty Award from the presentation in London the week before, which Indhu and I had both missed. The evening was a delight, but by midnight everyone was ready for bed: it had been an exhausting but exciting first week. Now all we had to do is brace ourselves for the verdict of the press on following Wednesday.

Happily the New York Times liked us – and even better the rest of the press seem to have given us the thumbs up. I especially like the New York Magazine who said: “Yes: I am recommending a 7 hour play about Afghanistan” and then put us in their highbrow most recommended events of the month column!

Audiences are beginning to grow and there are a lot of events surrounding the plays which are really attracting people. On Tuesday the Skirball screened a brilliant documentary film from a woman who was embedded with US troops training the Afghan army; there was an interesting discussion afterwards with the audience questioning her, an American war photographer and me about the artistic responses to the conflict. And then on Friday there was an interesting reception hosted by the British Council in New York for diplomats and U.N. representatives who later went to see the performance and a discussion afterwards.

Early the following week Alec Baldwin also chaired a discussion with some serving military at which Richard Holbrooke was slated to appear, but sadly we got news of his sudden death two days before. He was a key player in Obama’s Afghan strategy and he will be very difficult for the Administration to replace.

The last week passed in rather a haze – much of the company succumbed to colds and flu and I got bronchitis which dogged me through to the last performance. Despite this during the week I had to address the Public Theater’s board, and give a lecture about the plays at the CUNY Graduate Centre, both of which passed in rather a blur. Added to that the weather was bitterly cold with a huge wind chill factor – but we all felt we shouldn’t complain when we heard that London was snowed in and Heathrow closed. Luckily by the weekend I was beginning to recover thanks to some huge anti-biotic injections from a doctor who, by coincidence, turned out to be a fan as she been to the whole press day trilogy on the first Sunday.

The last day of performances was attended by Tony Kushner who came round afterwards full of praise and made a speech in the green room saying how important it was the West stayed the course in Afghanistan and how ISAF had to ensure that things got better. The day was somewhat dominated by the company – many of whom had been in the USA since the beginning of September – being really worried about getting home for Christmas. Daily horror stories of the chaos at Heathrow had got through to us all. In the event they were delayed for 24 hours – although I got stuck in New York until Christmas day.

Overall this tour has been an astonishing ride, the company have been brilliant and, for the most part, I think, we have all enjoyed ourselves hugely; as well as having enormously engaged responses from our American audiences.

The story is almost over, but not quite – wait for the next instalment on this blog on the 10th January…