‘I WAS quite nervous coming back to it, I must admit,” says Graham Eatough, author of the drama How To Act, an unsettling study of power which debuted to much acclaim and a Fringe First at last year’s Edinburgh Festival. There has been, as the writer-director says, “a significant change of context” since then.

As tremors from the Harvey Weinstein allegations continue, the Oxfam scandal has most recently shown how a toxic mix of racism and misogyny can betray the very meaning of charity.

In terms of its characters alone, How To Act, a two-hander featuring Anthony Nicholl, an internationally acclaimed theatre director played by Olivier Award winner Robert Goodale, and Promise, a young Nigerian woman played by Jade Ogugua, feels electrifyingly relevant.

Returning to the piece for a tour that features a number of related symposium events for theatre students, Eatough wondered whether it would need to be revised.

“You write something with a particular frame of reference and then suddenly events kind of overtake you,” he says. “But it’s been really useful and positive in terms of talking about and thinking through some of these debates that we are having necessarily at the moment.”

Goodale and Ogugua, who also featured in the original production, have been presented with “real-world reference points for these problematic power relationships”, he says.

The text of How To Act remains the same, however. Charming and confident, Nicholl holds an acting masterclass in which he demonstrates the unique methods he’s cultivated from Africa and other cultures. When aspiring actress Promise volunteers to take part, Nicholl’s assumptions about life and art begin to unravel.

Ideas, attitudes: these are ephemeral things buffeted and shaped by events and experiences.

“The reality of the world hasn’t changed since last August,” Eatough says. “It’s the media reporting of these events which has altered our consciousness.”

He adds: “The story is quite specific – it purposely looks at those things through this very particular theatre director and his views on the world, and his particular interactions with Nigeria. Because it’s coming at it through that angle, it feels like that story still has a kind of weight and significance. It becomes a way of thinking about these other stories out there.”

Eatough, who has been making consistently innovative and acclaimed work for almost 20 years, has no doubt reflected on how his own motivations and assumptions shape his work.

It’s intentional that, rather than a colonialist boor, Nicholl is likeable, a person potentially relateable both to Eatough and audiences of How To Act. “For the play to work dramatically, it can’t just be a straightforward critique of his position,” Eatough says. “I feel a responsibility to him even though I might not agree with everything he’s done or said. He’s completely well-intentioned regarding his ideas about theatre and art, that they can communicate profound things through shared experience and cut across cultures and difference. That’s still a sort of orthodoxy within western theatre practice. I identify with him, as I hope a lot of other people can, and not just people working in any artistic practice.”

Eatough continues: “The idea is that if we could only strip away the superficial stuff that gets in the way, we’d all find we agreed on things. But the opposing point of view says, ‘That’s all well and good but we can’t eradicate difference’. There are fundamental things that are different about our cultures, economy, history, politics, art and culture, things that we need to acknowledge and cannot obliterate through this desire to find a universal.”

Nicholl is forced to confront the fact universal truths are not unproblematic. They often emanate from those who have shouted the loudest; who, by economic and social status, have historically been afforded more credibility than others. The complexities and challenges Promise poses show Nicholl’s ideas to be based on lies – on how not to act.

Beginning as a play about the theatre, How To Act is also an indictment of how the west has continued to exploit previously colonised countries for some kind of “authenticity” as well as oil, no matter the cost to the environment and people’s livelihoods and welfare.

“There’s a very strong argument that, no matter how environmentally friendly we are, no matter how much recycling we do, or how politically liberal we are, that our whole society and the very option to be politically liberal and environmentally friendly is founded on wealth created through acts of exploitation,” says Eatough. “Our whole society is based on oil, and the way we’ve gotten our oil over the years, has been, to say the least, problematic.”

How To Act has its roots in a study of the relationship between people and the gods in Greek tragedy, and of the role of guilt. “The tragic protagonist is the ‘guilty guiltless one’,” Eatough says. “It’s a great way to describe the paradox at the heart of tragedy, which is that these people are acting within one understanding of the world, and with one set of reasons. But there is a bigger context which is outwith their control – the gods and fate. In a contemporary context, that’s ideology and over-arching political structures that we can’t escape.”

He adds: “Any of us might go to a foreign country with completely good intentions to have meaningful interactions with whomever we meet. But those interactions exist within a whole set of historical and cultural relationships that you can’t escape. No matter how guiltless you may be, you are guilty through being a part of that system from which we in the west have benefited. That’s part of the tragedy as well, that we blind ourselves to these unacceptable, bigger truths.”

Tonight, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 8pm, £11, £8 concs. Tel: 0141 552 4267. tron.co.uk

Mar 13 to 17, Traverse, Edinburgh, 8pm, £17, £9 and £12 concs. Tel: 0131 228 1404. traverse.co.uk

Mar 20 and 21, Eden Court, Inverness, 8pm, £14, £8 and £12 concs. Tel: 01463 234 234. eden-court.co.uk

Mar 23, Byre Theatre, St Andrews, 8pm, £14, £12 concs. Tel: 01334 475 000. byretheatre.com