"SEWING NEW CLOTHES FROM OLD SILK"
Artistic Statement from Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's
Producing Artistic Director, Nick Sandys
After I read the first scene of Tanika Gupta’s 2011 script, I could not put the text down. I had been reading a number of different adaptations of Charles Dickens for possible production at Remy Bumppo but none had so boldly and yet so faithfully revivified the novel’s imagery for the stage as well as brought a freshness that made Dickens’ classic coming-of-age tale new again.
Having read Great Expectations as a teenager, and studied it at college, it was eye opening to return now and re-read Dickens’ astonishing descriptions afresh and see his characters come alive from the page again. Dickens’ first-person narrative of Pip’s life journey is filled with wicked humor, genuine insights into an individual’s moral and ethical growing pains, and, of course, a crusading sense of justice and awareness of Victorian society’s hypocrisies and cruelties. And, by flipping India’s cultural fascination with Dickens on its head, here Tanika Gupta had captured the tone of that novel, large as life, while at the same time introducing us to a completely different cultural context from the exact same time period, a world that Charles Dickens would have recognized—or at least have read about.
India between 1840 and 1860, a period covering the huge transitions and complexities of colonized India and the British Raj, provides a landscape that not only makes the familiar new again but provides a unique matrix of identity issues that magnify the original story’s examination of social barriers and class structures. With Gupta’s very adept articulation of caste/race/colonialism with the novel’s original dissection of regionalism/class/capitalism, this new version re-imagines Dickens’ narrative with a specificity and theatricality that is truly exciting—and yet the majority of the dialogue comes directly from the original novel.
After having read the script, I immediately approached Silk Road Rising in order to bring this production to the stage. For several years Remy Bumppo had been looking for suitable plays to propose to other Chicago theatre companies for co-production, with the goal of producing projects outside our current capacities and perspectives while honoring our respective missions. This play provided the perfect opportunity for us to work with our good friends at Silk Road Rising. Gupta’s script, which breaks down the binaries of East/West thinking, cries out for a blending of specific resources: two countries, two writers, two cultures, two texts…two companies. As Gupta has collaborated so seamlessly with Dickens to bring her Bengali roots to bear on a classic English narrative, so Silk Road Rising’s inclusive polyculturalism and experience with East Asian theatrical traditions complements Remy Bumppo’s skill with classical language and Western theatrical styles and texts.
And therefore why not two directors to represent those cultures and companies? Lavina Jadhwani is a long-time friend of Remy Bumppo, having served on our Programming Committee and directed one of the elements in our 2007 thinktank project, The InSecurity Blanket. She has also directed several projects for Silk Road Rising over the years, so it made total sense to me to blend our own skillsets and cultural backgrounds in this unique project.
All of these factors combine to make us very excited about presenting Great Expectations as the culmination of Remy Bumppo’s 20th anniversary season in 2016/2017. And we are also very honored, in our first co-production, to be presenting Tanika Gupta’s work in America, where she has been largely overlooked, a serious omission of one of England’s current leading playwrights and an important voice in the British/Indian experience.