Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jacky Ivimy: Dialektikon

By | Published on Sunday 2 December 2018

Coming up at the Park Theatre is a fascinating sounding piece by Jacky Ivimy, and I was really intrigued by it from the moment I read about it. ‘Dialektikon’ offers a fantastical story, inspired by speeches from the 1967 ‘Dialectics of Liberation’ meeting, which took place at the Roundhouse in Camden.

I spoke to Jacky, to find out more about the play, ahead of the imminent run.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative of ‘Dialektikon’ – whose story does it tell?
JI: ‘Dialektikon’ is the story of Miranda’s journey, a dream journey but also a journey of discovery of the world around her, its perils and opportunities, and of her own strengths – a classic growing-up story. She’s a young girl from an immigrant family, a family with multiple problems – a bullying and over-interested father, a mother in mental distress, a younger brother who’s run off to join a gang, who falls into a dream world that she has to learn to navigate in order to find her way out.

In this kingdom of greed and war ruled by the idol Moloch, with its insistent roar of ‘More! More!’, Miranda will be protected by Ayida Wedo, a spirit guide related to her own wise grandmother, seduced by Moloch’s crafty Servant, and taught about the dangers facing our own world right now by the shades of great counter-cultural figures from the sixties as she struggles to find her way back to her own world.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
JI: Personal themes are intertwined with social, political and spiritual ones. Miranda’s dysfunctional family, immigrants struggling in a white world, mirrors the breakdown of the wider world around them. Her father’s bullying, devouring rage ties in with the themes of violence and war, while her mother’s mental distress and her brother’s alienation are miniatures of the dislocation we’re all feeling right now. Her wise grandmother embodies both female wisdom and the ancient wisdom of the tribe.

Wider themes weave across the action of the play: the greed and waste of our consumer society, racism and white male privilege, madness, the role of women, the degradation of what’s precious in human life and the dangers to the Earth itself through oncoming climate change.

Is all that being produced by our current society structures, or is destructiveness deeply engrained in our human nature? And is there a way out for us all? Together, could we create a better way of being?

CM: Can you explain a bit about the Dialectics of Liberation event in the sixties and its relation to the play?
JI: 1967 saw the cruel Vietnam War raging, a great battle for civil rights in the American South, the rise of the consumer society, militarism and the fear of nuclear annihilation. The Dialectics of Liberation Congress was a gathering of counter-cultural figures from across the world looking to debate these world problems and explore the possibility of wiser ways of being. It was also an explosion of ideas – of Eastern spirituality, alternative ways of making theatre and liberated sex – all fuelled by drugs.

I first came across the Congress eight years ago through Dr Leon Redler, one of the event’s organisers, friend and colleague of its convenor Dr RD Laing. Leon then put me onto Peter Davis who had filmed the Congress as Anatomy Of Violence, and who generously gave me all his materials including transcripts of all the key speeches.

It seemed to me that a great deal of what was said then makes even wiser sense in relation to our own huge problems, so I decided to make some of those insights available to people today. In 2012 I organised a series of free London events round what to me were the most relevant speeches, ending with the key bit: an audience discussion. That went well but was limited, so I looked to take the whole thing to a wider audience and started to try the material out as a play. At that point Adebayo Bolaji arrived to read the part of Stokely Carmichael in a small workshop, we bonded immediately over his enthusiasm for the project and here we are today.

CM: What relevance does that event have to where we find ourselves today?
JI: Those speakers were iconoclasts – out to break down our tired old ways of believing how the world works and open our eyes to different possibilities. The new ideas were fiery, explosive, dangerous to the current world order and indeed perhaps to society itself, our current values and ways of being. So it’s not surprising that there was then a big reaction in the shape of Mrs Thatcher and her family values…

And that whole system seems to hold us all ever more tightly. It’s all too clearly breaking down – just look around – but there’s very little idea of what can replace it. And here’s where those old hippy ideas chime in perfectly with the rebels of today, from the anti-frackers to Black Lives Matter to Extinction Rebellion, all of whom to me are showing us ways to a better world.

CM: What inspired you to create a play from this source?
JI: First, it was just the importance of bringing the wisdom of those great speakers to people so as to give us all different ways – clashing ideas – a dialectic – of seeing where we are now, what’s going wrong and how it might be possible to mend things, or at least to reinforce what we all know is positive: caring, companionship, community.

If I look a bit deeper, it was Stokely Carmichael’s speech – a magnificent explosion of anger at our society’s cruelty and injustice towards people of colour – that resonated. It was a familiar anger, one I’d felt myself as a child without knowing it was there, because I’d also been assumed to be ‘bad’…

Lastly I’d found a wisdom in the Congress, an understanding of the deep, hidden destructive forces in our society that made a great deal of sense to me. And one of the very first warnings of the onrush of climate change. Running a small farm for many years, I’d felt first-hand the pain of seeing wildlife dwindle, even vanish – barn owls, skylarks, swifts all gone- honey bees and butterflies now just an occasional sighting. We have to do what we can to stop the loss.

CM: So you would call this play political? And can culture affect the social and political?
JI: At this time, how can a play of ideas not be political? Our current system is driving us and the planet over the edge. We have to think urgently of new ways of interacting with each other and with the earth if we’re to get through at all in one way or another.

I don’t know if that can affect anything – probably not, but perhaps giving people some hope is all that matters. I’m thinking of how when Sarajevo was under siege gallant people brought plays into the city, how in the US the late show hosts are keeping people’s spirits up, facing down lies with laughter. That’s why the Servant is almost the most important factor in the play – I want people to laugh and I’ve given him as many jokes as I can think of. The most important of course is Miranda herself. I believe hope for the planet is coming from women, specially young women all across the world who see the mess men have made and are determined to clear it up – ‘women’s work’ as it says in the play.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team you’ve handed it over to?
JI: It was the greatest stroke of luck four years ago to find the director Adebayo Bolaji as a partner, both for the long process of finding the script a home and more importantly to get his theatrical experience and input as actor, director and playwright to turn an abstract play of ideas into the deeply human story of a young girl’s journey. Ade and I are both as much influenced by European modes of theatre, particularly Grotowski, as our own naturalistic tradition, and he’s brought that out in his use of shadow play, puppets and his expressionist use of actors.

Ade has also brought in a remarkable team of creatives who all buy into this theatrical mode. The magic visuals, sharply brilliant, are by Carl Robertshaw, master of kite creation and of the grandest stage and event designs, with a play of light from lighting designer Jonathan Samuels. Wind accompaniment has been specially composed for the production by by composer/musician Kate Luxmoore, partnered with Stanley Ohios on drums. And puppeteer Jenny Dee besides teaching the actors her skills also created dolls for us to an African theme, hand puppets and a shadow dragons.

CM: Have you been much involved in the production itself?
JI: That’s entirely the job of the director Adebayo Bolaji but I do a bit of script alteration when needed, and when I’m watching a rehearsal with its magic process of enrichment I feel completely happy.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
JI: I’ve been playing with the idea of putting something about William Blake on stage –whether it’s possible to find a way of dramatising his great poetic visions, playing against the revolutionary background of his times which include the French Revolution and Peterloo.

The first play I wrote was a monster, an 8 hour epic in carnival form focussed on the bombing of Dresden but also taking in glimpses of key moments of German history from two alternative creation myths to the apocalypse via the Romans, the Thirty Years war, Goethe, Wagner etc, and the air wars of World War 2. Given where we are now with Brexit and the EU, it seems a possible moment to look again and see if that old monster could be redeemed somehow – shortened to 90 minutes and its vast cast cut down to five…


‘Dialektikon’ is on at the Park Theatre from 6-29 Dec, see the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.