Reprinted from Focus Magazine, August 2014
Image © Ellie Kurtz
“Where words prevail not, violence prevails.” – The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd
By the time this appears in print, the dust of the FIFA World Cup will have settled, the winning nation will have held the golden trophy aloft (C’mon, Argentina!), and we all shall have re-emerged -- somewhat blurry-eyed, perhaps -- from our collective Brazilian hangover. What, one wonders, shall remain?
A great deal of questioning, no doubt. A certain Uruguayan will be due a period of intensive self-reflection (“To bite, or not to bite, that is question?”), and a considerable amount of collective introspection will be due for the likes of host nation, Brazil, and, of course, England.
Following England’s abrupt departure from the proceedings, I was more disappointed by the players’ reactions than by their poor performance. Wayne Rooney’s apologetic epilogue was utterly disheartening, particularly, his assessment that the English side is “too nice” to win trophies. Rooney lamented England’s lack of “nastiness”, implying that the team should become more ruthless and “street-wise”. That would be very sad, indeed, and quite out of national character.
Fair play and sportsmanship are hallmarks of British mentality and disposition. When outlining characteristics of his beloved English for his fellow Americans in 1904, Ralph Waldo Emerson mused that the most indefatigable English trait was “pluck”. He enthused: “One thing the English value is pluck. The cabmen have it; the merchants have it; the bishops have it; and the women have it!”
Cicely Berry, legendary Voice Director of the RSC, is by far the pluckiest Englishwoman I know. Since 1997, Cicely has traveled to Brazil to collaborate with “Nós de Morro” - a group of theatre artists based in one of Rio’s toughest slums (favelas). Far from the lush, tropical scenery featured on our tellies during the World Cup, Vidigal is a world apart - set high in the hills that surround the beautiful and opulent city. Controlled by drug cartels, replete with guns, gangs, and violence, it is place into which the police do not venture except in armoured cars. Armed with the works of Shakespeare, diminutive, octogenarian Cicely Berry enters this volatile place and competes confidently with drug lords for the hearts, minds and souls of Vidigal’s favelados (young people living in the slums).
As vividly depicted in the brutal, but truthful film City of God (2002), life is cheap in Vidigal. Watching that film, I shuddered at the thought of gentle, precious Cicely traversing such a place. (I once suggested accompanying her, and she resisted on the grounds that she could not guarantee my safety.)
True to herself, and driven by her uncompromising politics, Cicely’s mission is to empower, liberate and give voice to the voiceless. For Cicely, Shakespeare’s words are apt channels of expression, and by freeing the voice through his full, rich and powerful language, the speaker ultimately develops the courage and freedom to fully express their inner self. Hers is a truly characteristically English ‘plucky’ success in Rio, and one well worth celebrating!