MARCH ends at The Albany Theatre with She Talks To Beethoven by Adrienne Kennedy
As part of a festival of new directors by Stone Crabs Theatre Company, supporting the future of theatre making, I played the “radio voice” in She Talks To Beethoven – experimental theatre! Although written in 1989, I can’t work out how many times this play has been done. I’ve tried to find information on past performances of this play and from what I can tell, it was definitely performed as a non-seated installation performance at Jack in Brooklyn, New York. But apart from that, our play looks like a premiere in the UK. The play forms part of a collection by Adrienne Kennedy called “The Alexander Plays”. The Alexanders, are a fictional couple, Suzanne and David – but they are placed in real, historical as well as fictional circumstances and across the plays, a whole world is created. The Alexander Plays is disturbing and like nothing else I have ever read before. Ms Kennedy articulates feelings and experiences I have felt but never been able to express, as an woman of African descent.
The author, Adrienne Kennedy is an African American playwright. Her work genre is described as surreal. “She Talks To Beethoven” is set in Ghana, 1961 – when Ghana had just won its independence. It refers to political greats such as Frantz Fanon who fought for not just the rights of African people to rule themselves, but psychological freedom, unique to the experience of colonised peoples. “She Talks to Beethoven” is also set in Austria, and spans 1814 to 1826. Suzanne’s husband David is missing. At the time he goes missing, Suzanne is writing a play about Beethoven and as the outside world, via the radio voice, searches with passionate urgency for David, desperate to know of his welfare, which relates to the security and independence of political art in Ghana, Suzanne loses herself in conversations with Beethoven, living his life with him, his experiences, including his journey on writing Fidelio, while losing his hearing, completely.
For “She Talks To Beethoven” at The Albany Theatre in Deptford, London in March 2016, we were a cast of three women of colour. Our director was Devan Wells. I was joined by Julianna Lisk, who played Suzanne and Grace Cookey-Gam, who played Beethoven and David (and perhaps a possible interpretation, also Suzanne). As the radio voice (who I named Audrey Owusu-Manu), I remained on the stage the entire time. The other characters travel between Accra and Vienna, 1800 to 1900. I moved into the realm of mime, with my own storyline between the words given to me, exploring themes of the threat of death, or the threat against life, political art, and the hope of achieving TRUE independence.
The level of intensity, was high and then higher still. The beauty of it all though, was being able to do this play as part of a new directors’ festival where the remit was – be brave, be daring. Just try. Devan Wells, with all the coolness and calm that I know is going to be a trademark throughout her career, went for it. We all did and – we were received well. The audience were with us, understood what we were trying to achieve.
“She Talks To Beethoven” has been an amazing experience. I love the sophistication of Ms Kennedy’s writing. I love that she took a crucial part of Ghana’s history, of African history, and weaved it into Europe and what we as people of the world experience, fighting for independence on a multitude of levels, repeated time and time again through history.
This is the kind of theatre I am so happy to be part of, the opportunity makes everything worthwhile.