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Dance representation of fear and oppression: Hannes Langolf and Christina May in "Can We Talk About This?" (George Nagy)

Prepare to be amazed: a mainstream London theatre, the National, has staged a production which takes on multiculturalism and does not conclude that all ways of life are equally right and the bad stuff only happens because we are colonialists bent on nicking other people's oil. Can We Talk About This? by Lloyd Newson's inventive DV8 company, which mixes dance, verbatim texts and acting, speeds us through a series of interconnected stories, from the Rushdie affair to the Danish cartoons saga. Out of this emerge fierce arguments about the consequences of  tolerating different social cultural and political norms for different ethnic groups. 

By the time The Satanic Verses had resulted in book-burning in Bradford and fatwas in Islington, the perils of tolerating intolerance should have been clear to all. They were not. People found excuses for the Islamists because Sir Salman Rushdie is not always a likeable man, which was very far from being the point. This drama elegantly explores what has gone wrong, and challenges us to show some bravery and consistency in putting it right.

 What lifts Can We Talk About This? from a didactic play (and these are often boring, even if one approves of the lecture) is the use of video and texts from real-life encounters. These vogueish tools of contemporary drama are harnessed to eternal arguments about freedoms and the failure to stand up for them. Whether we feel morally superior to the Taliban is a question directed frontally at the audience, in the knowledge, of course, that only a minority of people will answer an unequivocal "Yes".  

On we move through the harrowing stories of the past decades, from the persecution of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the murder of the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh. Violence is portrayed through graphic movement and sharp contrasts of light and shadow, touchstones of Newson's work which have brought him an international following as a stage innovator (this production arrives from Australia). Most touching, I thought, were the simple, graphic dance representations of fear and oppression, like a woman rebelling against a forced marriage through clenched postures of constraint and tiny gestures of resistance in her hands and body.

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