Nick Payne on the Royal Court's Georgia Project

Earlier this month, playwright Nick Payne joined fellow writer April de Angelis and Elyse Dodgson, Head of the Royal Court’s International Department to visit Tbilisi in Georgia. This was the first phase of a new project working with writers from the Ukraine and Georgia.

This was the first time Nick had taken part in one of the Royal Court’s international projects and here he writes about his experience there:

Visiting Georgia with the International Department recently was a bit of a jump into the unknown. I knew very little about the country itself or indeed its theatre. Likewise, I am embarrassed to say that I speak no language beyond English and was both fascinated and a little anxious to see how the logistics of working with a mixture of seven Georgian writers and seven Ukranian writers would be managed.

The workshops began on Sunday 8th May and I arrived in Tbilisi at midnight on Saturday 7th. As I made my way to the Marjanishvili Theatre (our base for the week), I was wondering quite what I had let myself in for. Fortunately, it became immediately apparent that I need not have worried. The writers were intensely hospitable and wonderfully idiosyncratic. Our various translators worked diligently, attempting, for instance, to translate the concept of a ‘first draft’ into both Georgian and Ukranian simultaneously (at one point, I wondered if ‘draft’ had become ‘beer’).

Over the course of the week, I learnt a huge amount not only about the playwrights themselves, but also about their respective countries. Each and every one of them talked passionately and uncertainly about being part of a generation still living in the shadow of the Soviet regime. We heard about an apparent ‘crisis of masculinity’ taking place in Ukraine. We heard of the lack of provisions for the elderly population of Georgia and the stigma attached to the notion of placing the elderly into care. We heard of the creeping fear that stems from four wars in fourteen years, of the quarter of the female workforce that are leaving Georgia to seek work abroad, of the unease within certain parts of Ukraine toward those living with disability … Above all, I was struck by each of the writer’s yearning for an ideology that they can call their own. An ideology that is both distinct and separate from not only their parents, but also that of their grandparents.

I hope the above doesn’t give the impression that the playwrights – or indeed the inhabitants of Tbilisi itself – were in anyway partial to a little wallowing or introspection. This could not be further from the truth. On our final night in Tbilisi, the playwrights insisted upon taking us to a restaurant renowned for its freshly baked bread. They chose a vast array of dishes for us to try (Khachapuri!). As the evening wore on, one of the writers revealed himself as an incredibly adept performer of opera and took to the karaoke machine. Likewise, the boundless enthusiasm of another of the playwright’s was showcased via a series of intensely funny and heartfelt toasts. I left Tbilisi quietly enthused by the inquisitive, unwavering generosity and determination of the fourteen playwrights. I can’t wait to read their plays.

Nick Payne May 2011