Review: Cutting the Tightrope – The Divorce of Politics from Art, Arcola Theatre

An extraordinary theatrical and humanitarian endeavour – Cutting the Tightrope: The Divorce of Politics from Art is simply stunning at the Arcola Theatre

“How many have to die before we say ceasefire?”

Sometimes, trying to translate the urgency and energy of an exceptional piece of theatre can feel nigh on impossible. Such is the vitalness and vitality of Cutting the Tightrope: The Divorce of Politics from Art though, that one has to try to match it. Put together as a series of rapid political responses to…well, pretty much the whole state of the world today, it is as punchy and pointed as theatre can get, an admirable provocation about we can and should be doing to stand up and be counted.

From politics at home to war abroad, media complicity and Arts Council England funding guidance that states that artists should be political, things couldn’t be more febrile. Perhaps with this in mind, this collection of short plays are presented without attribution, though the names of the 12 writers are presented en masse – those contributing are Hassan Abdulrazzak, Mojisola Adebayo, Phil Arditti, Sonali Bhattacharyya, Nina Bowers, Roxy Cook, Ed Edwards, Afsaneh Gray, Dawn King, Ahmed Masoud, Nina Segal and Sami Abu Wardeh.

Between them, they tackle a wide range of issues which could be ripped from the headlines – black women MPs being ignored in Parliament, the enduring effects of British colonial legacies and theatre managers scrambling to contain social media scandals fomented by loathsome right-wing rags. The vignettes that focus on the artist’s right to be political land on that stomach-sinking feeling so well, acknowledging (if not accepting) that administrators have a tough job too in simultaneously having to manage the demands of funders and creatives.

Inevitably, there’s a good deal of focus on the war in Gaza, explored in various forms, and given the scale of that atrocity, combined with the attempts to stifle open debate on the issue in so many ways, how could it be otherwise. These are more challenging though, as we’re reminded, discomfort is absolutely a relative term. The company of Salman Akhtar, Issam Al Ghussain, Waleed Elgadi, Ruth Lass, Jessica Murrain, Sara Masry, Mark Oosterveen, and Joel Samuels do sterling work on such limited rehearsal time – rarely has rapid response theatre been so viscerally effective, the baton is now in our hands to do more.

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