The Other Place is a small complex a stone’s throw, and almost in the shadow of, the behemoth building that houses the RSC’s other theatres, the Royal Shakespeare and the Swan. Many visitors to Stratford Upon Avon don’t know what or where is it or that it is even affiliated with the RSC. At best they stumble upon it en route to visit Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church, down the street from my flat. That’s a shame because in addition to having a really good bar and café (Suzy’s), it has a rich history and varied offerings well worth an intentional walk down the Avon riverbank. They host monthly jazz and poetry nights, and the black box theatre provides a flexible space for smaller, quirkier, and more experimental productions than its big brothers down the road can stage.
Their annual Mischief Festival features works around a common theme. This year, #WeAreArrested (by Can Dunder, adapted by Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts), and Day of the Living (created by Darren Clark, Amy Draper, and Juliet Gilkes Romero) completely captivated my attention and highjacked my emotions for two hours last Friday in a way that recent productions at the RSC and Swan hadn’t. In the former (and I quote from the program), “a journalist receives a flash-drive containing critical evidence of illegal government activity” and feels “duty bound to publish the story. But with the nation destabilized and divided, he soon finds himself risking everything for his profession. #WeAreArrested is the true story of a journalist’s commitment to expose the truth in the face of huge personal risks.” In the latter, its title an optimistic twist on the traditional celebration of the Day of the Dead, 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa “are forcibly disappeared” in 2014. “No one is brought to justice.” This musical piece is a “tribute to life and the Mexican spirit,” with “urgent, global issues at its heart.”
Both pieces examine, with heart wrenching and unflinching precision, the most basic issues of freedom and human rights. A friend told me that an exiled Turkish journalist and his son came to see the show and participate in the director talk back session; I’m sorry to have missed that. For many of my friends, this was their first exposure to the decades-old trauma of “Los Desaparecidos” in Latin America. Although this represented one specific event in Mexico, the actors mentioned the nearly 30,000 who had “been disappeared” over the years and said that in the time it took us to watch the show, one person would have disappeared.
It’s easy to forget, in a Shakespeare-centric town with a world famous Shakespeare theatre at its heart, that the world does not revolve around him. I applaud everyone involved in these two important and moving pieces, especially the RSC itself, for remembering that and striving particularly diligently to bring alternative and highly relevant works to the Bard’s backyard.
Photos by Diane Lowman