We visited 21 countries on this tour and Jordan was one of our most eagerly anticipated destinations, writes Eleanor Buchan
1927 on tour – Jordan
After a long European winter and too much time spent in darkened theatres, the sunlight that greets us when we land in Amman is blissful. We are welcomed by the rambunctious traffic, wafts of sound from distant muezzin and warm air. We stay in a charming little hotel on Rainbow Street, with big white beds and a sun-soaked terrace for our breakfast, where we delight in throwing off our jumpers. Everyone we meet is gentle and hospitable. Here for only five days we head downtown immediately and are charmed to be greeted on every street corner by the phrase: “You're welcome! You're welcome!” We get lost on our way to the citadel and are directed up a steep bank by a local. We clamber up, but it appears that we are walking over some of the ancient site itself – stumbling in fact over Byzantine rubble – but no one seems to mind. As we make our way towards the tourist office to buy tickets, I look back and see a group of young boys rollocking over the same stones with delight. Here, history is allowed to be part of the present. Or perhaps it is the other way round.
"We are welcomed by the rambunctious traffic, wafts of sound from distant muezzin and warm air."
At the heart of the citadel, families are scattered in the sunshine and women hang picnics in plastic bags from tree branches while their babies roll around at their feet. I discover a group of women busily engaged with pulling up the thistles and splitting them, and when I venture over to ask what they are doing I am given a succulent inner stem to eat. It tastes like celery and I am delighted at the ease with which it is possible to make friends.
We eat all the good food the city has to offer and go potty over delicious lemon mint drinks and the amazing coffee. We go shopping and Lewis buys a green winter coat, and roars with laughter at this seasonal absurdity. We dine in the same restaurant three times in five days, because we are sure we will never find anywhere as good. I buy spices and find a bookstall filled with ancient books. I purchase a 1942 book of English Wild Flowers for a friend and, for myself, A Guide to the Hotels of Jordan from 1956. I am so happy to be here.
"Here, history is allowed to be part of the present. Or perhaps it is the other way round."
Reluctant to leave the sunshine, we head to the Al Hussein Cultural Centre for our two day get-in and are welcomed by a good strong team. Our get-ins are hard and the technical specificity of our show – which requires three projectors with particular requirements – puts pressure on everyone but is dealt with in a calm and gracious manner. The stage manager, Abdoush, deals with my complicated stage-masking requests with a mock outrage that disguises a warm heart. On our breaks, we sit outside in a deserted funfair to eat our sandwiches, surrounded by cars and the ghosts of the children who came here. Steve survives the long hours with strong, gritty coffee from the shop across the dual-carriage way. He risks his life to get each coffee but the battle seems to perk him up.
Later, we play to an invited audience of school children. Several hundred young teenagers pour into the auditorium then clap and roar along with the show, dazzling us with the lights of their mobile phone cameras. For us, it was an extraordinary performance. The show tells the tale of young people rising up to challenge the status quo. On one level it is a story about London but several people tell us it is also the story of their Arab Spring. The excitement about the piece is invigorating. Several audience members want photos with us after the show and we feel like film stars.
"We show them the stage set, held together by safety pins and string, and discuss about how small, handmade beginnings can grow."
We lead a workshop with a group of 30 young adults at the Al Balad Theatre; allegedly an ex-illegal cinema, it is now a beautiful arts centre, its walls painted in soft colours and hung with posters of productions past. It is run by Raed Asfour who also directs the Hakaya Festival, celebrating storytelling in the Arab world. We run four hours of exercises and games, introducing the group to the strange world of 1927 where animation, music and human blend as one. We teach them how to move within the projections, a mix of clown, mask, dance and Commedia Dell'Arte.
The group creates improvisations, experimenting with new styles of movement and we learn a lot from their energy and infectious enthusiasm. The participants include designers, performers, filmmakers and architects. I talk to a playwright from Syria who speaks of his concern for the future of theatre in his country. Many are shy, several are frustrated at the perceived lack of opportunities – they do not yet realise that they are the future theatre makers, directors and arts ministers of this country. We talk about the growth of 1927 as a theatre company and of how the show was made with very little money and by a tiny team. We show them the stage set, held together by safety pins and string, and discuss about how small, handmade beginnings can grow. Vanessa, representing our workshop partner, Creative Industries Jordan, is there to facilitate precisely this growth and rounds up contact details to form a entrepreneurial network. We will remember this group's passion for a long time – no other group on the entire tour will make quite such an impression.
On the final morning, I wake early and make my way alone down to the ancient Roman theatre. I sit in the stone auditorium and marvel at the acoustic brilliance. The seat I rest on is 2000 years old. Theatre was here, has thrived and will continue to do so, harnessing the energy of its young and yoking the stories from the past and for the future. What an honour to be part of it.
With thanks to all at British Council Jordan for their care of us during our visit.
Following huge success at the British Council's 2011 Edinburgh Showcase, theatre company 1927 has taken its multi-media show, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, to countries including: Australia, France, Ireland, Croatia, Nigeria, UAE, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, China, USA, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Jordan, Spain, Israel, Russia, Latvia, Italy and Austria. You can follow the current tour on this blog, as Eleanor shares experiences in other countries, too, and on Twitter @1927Productions. Keep up to date with other British Council Theatre and Dance projects and blogs @UKTheatreDance.