I was kindly sent a ticket for a performance of the Burma Play at the Library Theatre in Birmingham last night (14/8/2009). It played to a packed house and was followed by an informed discussion which involved a number of people with first hand knowledge of the situation.
The subtitle is “A Comedy of Terror” referring to the comedians the “Moustache Brothers” jailed for presuming to poke fund at the regime. By strange coincidence I had been to a performance of The Comedy of Errors by the Shakespeare Globe Theatre touring company at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford earlier this week. Both productions were accompanied by on-stage musicians with clarinets and an array of percussion to give an eastern flavour and provide sound-effects for slap-stick comedy.
The two performers involved this evening knew Burma and the Burmese well and they also took part in the following discussion. The play alluded to events and these were presented with conviction and passion. Naturally Aung San Suu Kyi’s role was an integral part, but there had been no attempt to revise the play in the light of the most recent events. Her assertion “I am not afraid” was one repeated themes was the imagery of a white bridge over the lake where so many Burmese people were massacred by Burmese troops. The bridge had to be speedily hosed down to restore it from blood red to its pristine state. Many, including young women, were drowned in the lake.
The discussion raised questions of dealing with the regime. Should tourists visit? The regime uses money to fund arms (60% of it’s budget) so providing funds is likely to increase the oppression of Burmese people. On the website there is a “dirty list” showing a list of multinational companies who make investments in Burma.
The plays sponsors, the Co-operative and Amnesty International, illustrated how pressure on companies had made a difference. The Co-op had used DHL for mailing and approached the company when it learned that the company was doing business there. DHL withdrew as a result. Other companies had also reconsidered after being approached.
The U.S. has embarked on a new line of approach to engage the Burmese regime. A visiting senator has already met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the first person to do so since her renewed 18 month house arrest. The sentence means she will not be able to take part in elections due to take place next year. Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, was assassinated in 1947 after being democratically elected. There is a view that the British were involved because of Aung San’s earlier involvement with the Japanese in the belief they would help rid Burma of British colonial rule. When the Japanese didn’t withdraw as promises he had switched his allegiance to the British power however.
A film to see.