Monday, 24 October 2016

Ubu Roi – SNT, Maribor

[seen 19/10/16]

This production of Ubu Roi contains blackface. Not ironic blackface. Not deconstructed blackface. Just a white actor wearing brown greasepaint to play “Negro” (see cast list).


No further review possible.

SNT Drama Ljubljana
Première: 30. 1. 2016, SNT Drama Ljubljana
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes. One interval.

Director Jernej Lorenci
Dramaturg Matic Starina
Set designer Branko Hojnik
Costume designer Belinda Radulović
Composer and quotations selector Branko Rožman
Lighting designer Pascal Mérat
Choreographer Gregor Luštek
Language consultant Tatjana Stanič
Assistant to dramaturg Katja Markič

Papa Ubu Jernej Šugman
Mama Ubu Nina Valič
Capetain Bordure Bojan Emeršič
Big Priest Jurij Zrnec
Klemen Slakonja Klemen Slakonja
Minister Sabina Kogovšek
Financier Boris Mihalj
Judge / The Big One Gregor Zorc as guest
Negro / The Little One Žan Perko as guest

This is Not a Love Story – Lutkovno Gledališče, Maribor

[seen 19/10/16]

Thank fuck for choreography, frankly. This was, like, the millionth piece I saw at the Borštnikovo festival and – having missed seeing the brilliant Republika Slovenija again because of a timetable clash – the festival was proving *somewhat low on highlights* by this point. [This wasn’t just my opinion, btw. The usual crew of international critics and curators were all looking *a bit grumpy* by Wednesday.] Meanwhile, I was trying to pioneer a new descriptive-not-prescriptive approach to the work, after most of my previous reviews were more tellings offs than reviews. Difficult critical question, that. [See: blogs and trolls, passim.]

I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was interesting – really interesting – to see the work, and to observe possible “national tendencies” (nothing conclusive); however, *at the time* when *the actual shows* are often *very boring to sit through* one’s patience *does begin to fray*. So, an hour of very gentle, very wry, very deadpan, very perfectly realised hipster stand-up-choreography was the unexpected answer to exactly what you’d like to see. As a mode, I guess it’s familiar from people like Ivana Müller and Jerome Bel, or maybe imagine a super-chilled Sleepwalk Collective.

In This is Not a Love Story, the two performers basically stand on stage, ask each other questions, walk about in perfect sync a bit, and occasionally do a couple of steps of *actual dance* (the reactionaries!).

It’s nice at the time. And, I think – outside of a festival context; having less to write about, think about, concentrate on – I bet one could dig right into it, and probably come up with a brilliant Trueman-esque reading of what it’s *really* about. (Probably Matt could have done that here too, maybe I’m just lazy.) But as it was, I just let it wash over me. There’s an amusing bit about whales, for example, where the woman interrogates the man about how much he likes them. He opts for b) (of a–c), which boils down to quite liking them, being happy to watch a documentary about them, perhaps, but maybe not going so far as to set a video recorder so he can watch the programme again. This is the attitude the show gives off about itself too. And the one it gets back in return. In this context, even with added gratitude, it’s hardly the stuff out of which life-changing commitments are made.

I refuse to link this response to the show's title in a punning sign-off, though.

Première: 11. 5. 2011, Dansens Hus Stockholm, Sweden
Running time 1 hour. No interval.

Director and author of concept Gunilla Heilborn
Choreograpers and authors of text Gunilla Heilborn, Johan Thelander, Kristiina Viiala
Set and costume designer Katarina Wiklund
Lighting designer Miriam Helleday
Author of music Kim Hiorthoy
Sound designer Johan Adling
Technical coordinator Axel Norén
Managing director Asa Edgren/Loco World

Johan Thelander, Kristiina Viiala

Ondine – SNG, Maribor

[seen 18/10/16]

Blimey. Have you ever seen Jean Giradoux’s 1938 play Ondine? It’s actually quite funny and quite good. I admit I am also massively relieved to discover that it is from 1938, and so all the (text) things I wondered about a bit while watching this production probably were deliberately ironic and/or arch (as I hoped/suspected), rather than just clanging awfulness from the C19th, or something.

The plot is based on a C19th German novel, which itself is based on a medieval German fairy tale. One that’s pretty much exactly the same as The Little Mermaid. As such, *obviously* the entire thing is a clanging mess of chauvinist gender essentialism, but I’m choosing to believe that Giradoux knew what he was doing when adapting it. Indeed, if anything, it’s Janusz Kica’s staging that gets in the way of the C21st here. That is to say, the betrothed of ridiculous knight Hans von Wittenstein (Nejc Cijan Garlatti), Bertha (Urška Taufer), appears throughout wearing a tight, black, see-through dress, while transformed-fish-lady Ondine (Arna Hadžialjević) wears a series of light, wafty chiffon dresses which are also *somewhat see-through*. So, yeah, the costuming looks like it’s come out of the bad-old-days of the UK’s post-censorship, pre-women’s lib. Mainstream (think: a racier theatrical version of Pan’s People or something) ((days from which we’re yet to equitably emerge, if the work of Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish it anything to go by)).

As a result of having seen ...Goga, and more so of having seen ...Molière... previously, I guess I was at the end of my tether for crap being chucked at women on stage. I mean, seriously. It’s the 21st century. Can we stop with the objectification already? (This also applies to UK. I’m not saying Slovenia’s record is significantly worse, although directors might be a bit more used to their decisions going unremarked here...)

Aside from that, it’s a weirdly enjoyable show [yes, sometimes when watching a play, I choose to blot out questionable costuming decisions at the time when I've got 2hrs30 of a play to deal with]. The (English) surtitles were a rather witty and enjoyable translation of the play, I’m not entirely sure how well they related to the Slovenian translation of this French play. I think I got to laugh at more jokes than the native audience, for example. Although maybe that’s just a cultural thing [the English (myself included) do tend to laugh first and think later]. Although the performances did seem to support the comic reading of the scenes where that was relevant (the play itself really switches genres from Wildean humour, to, well, Wildean sentimental pathos really). It’s a very broad, mainstream play, but one that feels entirely tailored to the theatre. It’s got a whole play-within-a-play structure, which seems to emanate from the original text – a text that here *seems* (to me) to have been pretty much followed to the letter (albeit in stylised-modern costumes, and on a fairly 1980s German opera set).

So, yes. Not much to say about it beyond that, really. Quite an enjoyable play, especially if you want to feel like you’ve spent an evening at the theatre in the C19th (the Old Hall of Slovenian National Theatre, Maribor adds to this sensation with its Austro-Hungarian chocolate box auditorium). Basically, I think the play’s totally revive-able, even if I suspect that Katie Mitchell (for e.g.) would probably have to do something pretty severe to it, before she thought it was worth touching. I dunno. What do we do when the whole of history and art up to and including this point in time is just really sexist (and racist)?   I guess binning history and not being sentimental about old plays is probably the only real way forward...

SNT Nova Gorica
Première: 12. 5. 2016, SNT Nova Gorica
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes. One interval.

Director Janusz Kica
Dramaturgs Ana Kržišnik Blažica, Martina Mrhar
Language consultant Srečko Fišer
Set designer Marko Japelj
Costume designer Bjanka Adžić Ursulov
Composerj Arturo Annecchino
Lighting designer Samo Oblokar
Assistant to director Daniel Day Škufca
Assistant to language consultant Laura Brataševec
Assistant to set designer Valentin Tribušon

Ondine Arna Hadžialjević
Knight Hans Nejc Cijan Garlatti
Bertha Urška Taufer
Poet Bertram Matija Rupel
Queen Yseult Helena Peršuh
King Hercule Jože Hrovat
Chamberlain Blaž Valič
Intendant, First Judge Kristijan Guček
Actor, Second Judge Žiga Udir
Eugenie Ana Facchini
Auguste Ivo Barišič as guest
King of Ondinas Radoš Bolčina
Queen of Ondinas Marjuta Slamič
Ondins Medea Novak, Andrijana Boškoska Batič as guest, Andrej Zalesjak

Staging a play: The Glass Menagerie – SNG, Maribor

[seen 18/10/16]

[supplemented notes:]

Staging a Play: The Glass Menagerie turns out to be one of the things that I’ve wanted to see for *ages*. Namely, a performance of a play on which all the text has been muted/interpreted as contemporary dance.

Set on the deep wide stage of the SNG (with the audience also sat on it, in a low deep rake – my God it’s a big stage), the piece has a white off-White floor, a light grey back wall, and in the centre, more brightly lit, a white outline of s room, with the walls rising to about a foot high all the way around, except where there would be doors. The performers are dressed in rehearsal blacks, with their hair tied back as if ready for wigs.

And it’s completely fascinating to watch. On one hand, there’s the radicalism, and possibly even the violence of the gesture *against* Williams’s script. But then there’s also the result, which is evidently gentle, earnest, nuanced and sincere. (And the script/text clearly remains undamaged at the end, as you can see from these copies on Amazon.)

At the same time, it’s not so fascinating to watch, that I haven’t taken out my phone to write these notes [it’s fine, Theatre Police, it’s pretty light in the audience anyway, there’s no one behind me, and the nearest person on my row is about 20 seats away. And looks like they might be asleep.]

The most interesting thing is the way that the piece both creates meaning and relies on pre-existing knowledge. For example, before coming to the theatre, I’d simply picked up my ticket from desk in my hotel room and hurried over to the theatre. I hadn't remembered what the full title of the show was. Just “Staging a Play...” Once the piece had started, after about ten minutes, I furtively and frantically Googled the title to see WHAT PLAY. And suddenly I was in a different critical universe. Because, I’ve seen The Glass Menagerie. I Have Opinions About Tennessee Williams.

Suddenly, also, the set made complete sense to me. At the same time, it gave me a whole unwelcome extra set of tools with which to assess the performance...

[At this point in making notes, there was AN INTERVAL - which was very funny. The entire show is only 1hr30, so we didn’t get to leave, instead we sat and watched a performance of an interval. This consisted of the dancers/performers flopping about a bit round the “offstage” table, and printing out new pages of text. Which is genius. I can’t believe In 20 years of theatregoing I’ve never seen someone print off their script on stage before (although, remembering the printers of my youth, perhaps I do see why this is only just happening now)]

...because, without the knowledge, the contemporary dance – curiously – didn’t make all that much sense as contemporary dance. But with the knowledge of what the script is, one could immediately bring too much interpretation to bear. It’s fascinating though, that they are dancing what at times even feels like the full script. (inc. interval!)

There are voiceovers between the scenes, which offer cute-accented deadpan takes on “being a performer” and/or “making performances”.

The music is very nice.

The lighting is very nice.

The performances are very good.

The atmosphere is very relaxed.

After everything else I’d seen so far this week, nothing could have been more welcome. And, in a way, this is a perfect Festival Show. Fascinating, open, sorbet-like. In theory, the dances here could have been anything, and certainly could have demanded infinitely more attention; but there was something wonderful about the laissez-faire gentle quality. I think you’d have a harder time selling this as a piece of work to all but the most hardcore dance fans if this was shown in the usual one-show-in-the-evening-after-a-hard-day-at-work way. So, is it elitist? No; it’s just the rest of the way we’ve allowed society to be structured that sucks. [But, yeah, the people who work hardest for least money might think you’re taking the piss a bit if you stuck this on at (say) the Liverpool Everyman instead of Ellen McDougall’s version. Even if only a dedicated philistine could deny that it was an interesting experiment.]

After the “interval” – about an hour into the performance – the performers return to the “set” (after performing an intricate outside-of-*set* group choreography) and do the scene where Tom’s mate comes round(?). Now they’re dancing around with the scripts in their hands. And it’s funny because *even the dancing* feels like they’re being *a bit literal*.

But then, with a dazzling change of pace, the scene between Jim & Laura comes out of a blackout and is genuinely lovely. Totally legible, almost fully acted, and just incredibly touching. Attention completely grabbed.

I think this set a new standard and blueprint for what “experimental theatre” can look and feel like (for me).

“I don’t remember if we locked the door. Do you?”

Emanat Institute and Matija Ferlin with partners: Bunker, Ljubljana / The Old Power Station – Elektro Ljubljana, Mediterranean Dance Center - San Vincenti, Croatia, Pre-School Education and Grammar School Ljubljana
Première: 10. 12. 2015, Old Power Station Ljubljana
Running time 1 hour 25 minutes. No interval.

Author of concept and director Matija Ferlin
Performers and choreographers Loup Abramovici, Anja Bornšek, Maja Delak, Matija Ferlin, Žigan Krajnčan
Dramaturg Goran Ferčec
Set designer Mauricio Ferlin
Author of music Luka Prinčič
Costume designer Matija Ferlin
Creator of make-up and hair styling Tinka Pobalinka
Lighting and technical director Saša Fistrić
Designer Tina Ivezić
Photographer Nada Žgank
Organizator Nina Janež
Executive producer Sabina Potočki

Bella Figura – SNG, Maribor

[seen 16/10/16]

What does one do about Bella Figura? Thomas Ostermeier actually commissioned a play by Yasmina Reza. I mean, WHAT? Was it an amusingly kitsch gesture? (Well, yes, but...) Was it his attempt to get everyone to stop taking the Schaubühne so damn seriously the whole time? (Apparently.) In the event, I think I’m right in saying that once he’d commissioned *something* by Reza, Ostermeier was kind of hamstrung by having to stage the result, and the result wasn’t very good. (Even by the lamentably low standards of Y.R.)

Anyway, this production is by Hrvatsko Narodno Kazalište, Zagreb (National Theatre of Croatia, Zagreb). Here’s the English synopsis of the play from the Maribor Festival Website: “Boris is a successful entrepreneur who intends to enjoy a romantic evening with his mistress Andrea, a single mother and a pharmacy assistant. Boris mentions on the fly that the restaurant was recommended by his wife and that small indiscretion causes serious, even catastrophic consequences. “Andrea is furious and doesn’t want to leave the car. When parking the car in front of the restaurant, Boris hits an older lady. After a while, another couple, Eric and Françoise, accompanied by Françoise’s mother Yvonne, join Boris and Andrea. Soon it becomes clear that the two couples are connected by the accident. To make things even more complicated, Françoise is the best friend of Boris’s wife. When Andrea suggests that they all have dinner together, Boris, who is still in shock after the accident, is unable to reject that dangerous proposal. The tension between Boris and Andrea increases and soon everyone at the table is aware of the nature of their relationship. It also becomes evident that due to bad investments Boris’s company is on the verge of bankruptcy. The carefully preserved bourgeois façade of the successful businessman and a good husband begins to crumble down towards an inevitable implosion.”

I mean, I get why Reza is sort-of popular. On the surface of it, she’s carrying on the tradition of Zola, or Ibsen, or Chekhov, if you believe that what Zola, Ibsen and Chekhov did was write mildly amusing bourgeois problem plays. And, after watching Bella Figura without surtitles, there’s suddenly no real reason to believe that it wasn’t.

What’s more worrying about this production is how reminiscent it is of current popular contemporary British theatre; and beyond that, telling of the bland Schaubühnification of all Europe. Indeed, this was almost exactly like a cheaper knock-off of the Young Vic’s Yerma (except, by not knowing what any of the characters were saying (both theatre-text and social-subtext), you at least stopped wanting them all to die. [And of course, since Reza is a woman, she can write what she likes about women, so it wouldn’t have kicked off about the feminism. Even if, at a rough guess, this play by a woman from 2015 was actually less critical and more enforcing of regressive gender norms than Lorca’s 1930s text. But I guess no one ever claimed that equal representation was also necessarily going to be intelligent representation.]

Director Boris Liješević’s production plays on a small platform and the audience sit around it, heads level with the platform’s edge. It is, btw, the best solution to in-the-round theatre I’ve ever seen – have everyone looking up, so the opposite bank of audience aren’t in your fucking eyeline the whole time. Genius. Beyond this, the whole thing happens within a kind of blue tent [which here has been plonked on the main stage of the National] (design: Numen / For Use and Ivana Jonke). It’s basically exactly the same as Yerma, except without those tiresome mirror/not-mirror walls. The cast seem not-bad. Some of the actors are more realistic-seeming than others. None compelling, but then the stakes in the piece are maybe too low for “compelling”.

Obviously the plot doesn’t matter at all. I sat through the whole thing not knowing it, and don’t suppose having done so it would have improved things. Indeed, I think knowing what was going on might have substantially lessened my enjoyment. Probably there were some passable jokes. There’s an amusing mother-figure... Etc.

My understanding is that the play bombed at the Schaubühne. My fear is that is wouldn’t bomb in England, and that – worse – people will think they’re being European by enjoying it. I’m here to tell you, “European” is a meaningless adjective (beyond meaning “from Europe,” which Bella Figura is); at the same time, it’s a hell of a smokescreen for bullshit sometimes.

HNK Zagreb, Croatia
Première: 6. 11. 2015, HNK Zagreb, Croatia
Running time 1 hour 20 minutes. No interval.

Director Boris Liješević
Translator to Croatian Zlatko Wurzberg
Set designers Numen / For Use and Ivana Jonke
Costume designer Leo Kulaš
Music selection Boris Liješević
Lighting designer Aleksandar Čavlek
Assistant to director Arija Rizvić

Andrea Lana Barić
Boris Amette Milan Pleština
Francoise Hirt Olga Pakalović
Eric Blum Dušan Bućan
Yvonne Blum Ksenija Marinković
Voice from off Arija Rizvić

Hunger – SNG, Maribor

[seen 15/10/16]

[not so much a review as a sulk]

I did not like this adaptation of Knut Hamsun’s novel one bit. I didn’t like the set, I found the text [surtitles] stiflingly dull, and I found the lead actor’s chosen performance style – MOSTLY SHOUTING – pretty much unwatchable; every directorial decision was both literal minded and boring. I stayed until the interval (1hr30). Colleagues tell me things did not improve in the final hour.

I read the Wikipedia summary of the novel afterwards (sorry, not read the novel), and concluded that they’d neither given a fair account of more than half the book, nor had they replaced it with or adapted it into something better, or indeed *anything good at all*.

What happens on the stage, if you really need me to justify calling this a theatre review, is that the first-person-narrator shouts his stream-of-consciousness narration at you, from a particularly cramped, scaffolding set, while various characters in appropriate Norwegian period costume periodically come on and interact with him, as he tells us they are doing.

If nothing else, it is a masterclass in how not to do literary adaptations (i.e. to no one’s great surprise, it is *really similar* to lots we have in England).

So, yeah. That. Thanks, but no thanks.

Mini teater Ljubljana and Ptuj City Theatre
Première: 14. 6. 2015, Mini teater Ljubljana
4. 9. 2015, Ptuj City Theatre
Running time 2 hours 45 minutes. One interval.

Author of adaptation, dramaturg and director Janez Pipan
Composer Mitja Vrhovnik Smrekar
Set designer Sanja Jurca Avci
Costume designer Ana Savić Gecan
Lighting designer Andrej Hajdinjak

Marko Mandić
Ylajali – Nina Rakovec
Captain on a Russian ship/Blind Old Man/Merchant Christie/Editor/Police Officer on Duty – Brane Grubar
Pawnbroker/Constable/“Virgin”/Man with Newspapers – Tadej Pišek
Sausage Vendor/Flower Girl/ Bread Vendor/Waitress/Housekeeper – Nina Valič
Ylajali’s Partner/Store Clerk/Newspaper Street Vendor/Girl in Park/Prostitute/Housekeeper’s Servant – Maruša Majer

Thursday, 20 October 2016

An Event in the Town of Goga – SNG, Maribor

[seen 16/10/16]

I once got very told off for using comparisons to English plays in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, the quickest way to describe [Slovensko Stalno Gledališče Trst in Glasbena Matica’s staging of] An Event in the Town of Goga (Pogovor o uprizoritvi Dogodek v mestu Gogi) is to say it’s a bit like Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood crossed with Jim Cartwright’s Two. With added string trio and piano.

[Please understand, grumpy Eastern European critic, that I’m not actually saying one is better than another thing; I’m just trying to explain a thing to my predominantly English audience by giving them an idea of something it’s a bit like. I’m sure there are better ways of doing this, but I think there’s also a useful dimension where borders are usefully collapsed by doing it this way...]

Essentially, two actors (Patrizia Jurinčič, Dan Malalan) play all the roles of the inhabitants of Goga, a (fictional?) Slovenian town where the townsfolk grumble that nothing ever happens. The clanging irony, of course, is that there is lots going on underneath the surface (think Blue Velvet). A hunchbacked youth dreams of becoming an actor, and appears obsessed with Ibsen’s Ghosts. A young woman returns home and tries to murder the man who raped her as a child. A couple of other things happen. I get the impression that this is a radically pared-down version of the original, witn only the bare bones of set-up and pay-off in each event remaining; the rest having been cleared away to make room for a meta-theatrical framing device of two bewigged (C18th) socialites/singers observing the citizens at a party of some sort, while also singing operatic arias to the audience (and Bohemian Rhapsody).

As stagings go, well, it looks lovely. The artfully empty-by-not-empty stage is perfectly lit – a scaff. tower stands in the middle, doubling as various locations, while the impression of other houses is given by a bunch of Persian carpets laid out about the place. There’s a piano at the back, a string trio sitting about the place, and several mannequins and dressmaker’s dummies

As you might have noticed from the plot summary, there is *some unevenness of tone* here. The comic blah sits uncomfortably with the story of a girl who was repeatedly raped in her youth. And, well, the tragi-comic disabled simpleton probably wants a bit of looking at as well. On the other hand, this is my first acquaintance with what I understand is quite a well-known folk play here in Slovenia. Perhaps if the plot and characters of the story are pre-known to an audience (as they will be here), then directors etc. feel less need to cushion the brute facts, or apologise for them. And there is *some* layer of *something* around the performance that I think acknowledges that attitudes have maybe shifted somewhat since the play’s inception. Or, again, perhaps it’s this peculiar situation we now have in England where representations of *everyone* have to somehow be “fair” and showing situations in which the oppressed are oppressed is deemed to perpetuate that oppression. I dunno. England’s in a very funny state right now, and writing about its theatre is just about the worst thing imaginable (apart from all the actual bad things; which are worse).

So, what to say about this performance? It was hard work, for me. But I suspect I’m not the intended audience (not even remotely a native speaker, not culturally native). The seats were uncomfortable; the surtitles too high up, and too dim to be easily read, but this is all piffle.

There’s an uncomfortable feeling, sometimes, in criticism, of just being an external examiner, or moderator. You come in, and see a spread of the work that has already been marked highly, and really you should just be pleased that someone else has seen something in it, even if you don’t perhaps see it yourself. I mean, I really don’t. I haven’t met the curator of this Festival yet, but I suspect if we got to talking, and discussed our highlights of European theatre over the past few years our venn diagrams of the high points would overlap very little. I also don’t perhaps see where he or she is coming from dramaturgically yet. Unlike the Lithuanian showcase at Sirenos, which clearly has an emphasis on the emerging and the young, or Priit Raud’s astonishing programme at Baltoscandal, which chose complimentary pieces that, when placed alongside each other, actually added up to more than the sum of their already considerable parts, the programme here so far feels like “some things”. But perhaps there’s a clear agenda that – because it doesn’t touch on anything I’m experiencing – I’m just failing to perceive.

Director: Igor Pison
Dramaturgs: Katarina Košir, Ana Obreza
Set designer: Petra Veber
Conductor: Igor Zobin
Language consultant: Laura Brataševec

Afra/Hana/Ms Prestopil: Patrizia Jurinčič
Tarbula/Ms Tereza/Komi Omar Prelih/Pisar Klikot/Grbavec Teobald: Dan Malalan,

Slovenian Musical Centre ensemble: Ana Obreza (violin), Valentina Bembi (viola), Irene Ferro Casagrande (cello)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Oath – SNG, Maribor

[seen 17/10/16]

*Obviously,* refugees and immigration are very much the hot topic of the last year or so in European theatre; all the more so in Fortress Britain since we narrowly voted to leave the EU, for what, it has now been decided by our government, were largely racist and xenophobic reasons.

The Oath is an immigration narrative of sorts. It’s also a massive turbo-folk, karaoke, drinking party. WITH INDOOR SMOKING. [I might have quit drinking, but, my God, any piece of theatre that brings an ashtray to my table and encourages me to get smoking wins my undying love. I mean, if they’re not stopping me smoking, they can pretty much do what they like after that.]

Our two hosts – Nenad Jelesijević, Lana Zdravković – tell us the (true?) story of their move to Slovenia from Belgrade during the NATO bombings of 1999, and their subsequent love affair(s?) careers, and “assimilation” in Slovenia. It ends with their oaths of citizenship in their new country and subsequent (contingent, even) marriage.

On the surface, it’s fun, rowdy, maybe a bit sad/bitter (especially re: drinking and relationships), and camp as [insert non-worn-out-similie here].  My internal Edinburgh producer/Queer Festival curator/RVT programmer reckoned it was 9/10ths smash hit. If he’d been drinking, it would probably have been an 11. I mean, it would probably want a bit of a dramaturgical overhaul for the English market – more story, more legible jokes, bit of a rethink re: five scantily-clad female dancers (maybe. But maybe I’m just being over-sensitive there – it’s basically just a drag show, but with female performers. It’s a bit in-your-face, but maybe that’s good?) – but, yeah. I could see a revised version playing in one of those drinking tents in Edinburgh (if they can find one that allows smoking) and making a tonne of money. (Even more money if they stop giving away a tonne of free rakija.)

Underneath, well, I think I detected a mass of irony seething away under the surface glitter and ceremony, but I’d have to be a native speaker (great surtitles, though), and a better historian of the period to say for certain. Suffice it to say, I think there’s that’s immigrant’s dual sense of gratitude for having found a nice country to live in, and acknowledgement that the host country is maybe full of racist bastards who’d rather not have you there. There’s also the amusing (again, I imagine true) fact that both these “immigrant/refugees” have gone on to obtain PhDs in social and political sciences and visual and digital culture, and there’s some amusing talk of NGOs and arts council grants (which, again, I don’t think needs any translation for a UK context). (“Coming over here, adding to the sum total of human learning!”)

It’s not a show that totally resists analysis (cf. James Varney’s excellent review of the drag Return To Grey Gardens), more that I don’t think I have sufficient critical tools to do any good poking around under the chassis. Instead, I’ll leave you with some examples of the sort of music played...

[ADVICE: they *adapted* the lyrics of these songs, and they didn’t show the videos, so you might want to just listen to the music and tune out the contents of the originals (where they’re even understandable) and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T WATCH THE VIDEOS...]

[Embedding disabled by request, click to watch]

[Embedding disabled by request, click to watch]

So, yeah. Basically, anyone who wants to make the lip-synch drag version for the UK has a sure-fire hit on their hands. Would probably also do well as a late show at International Festivals (if anyone reading happens to have one of those...)

Kitch and Bunker Institute
Première: 28. 1. 2016, The Old Power Station Ljubljana
Running time 1 hour 15 minutes. No interval.

Author of concept: Kitch
Advisors: Bojan Jablanovec, Andreja Kopač, Katarina Stegnar
Choreographers: Teja Drobnjak, Evin Hadžialjević, Sara Janašković, Eva Lah, Tanja Sabol
Sound designers and transmitors: Jure Vlahovič/Rok Kovač
Music: fragments and remakes of songs by various artists
Singing instructor: Nataša Nahtigal
Costume designer: Mateja Fajt
Makeup artist: Tina Prpar
Author of space and lighting concept, graphic designer: Kitch
Lighting conductor, technical coordinator: Andrej Petrovčič
Photo-documentator: Nada Žgank
Video-documentators Urša Bonelli Potokar, Valerie Wolf Gang
Hosts: Nenad Jelesijević, Lana Zdravković
Dancers Teja Drobnjak, Evin Hadžialjević, Olivera Milašinović, Bela Pikalo, Tanja Sabol
Waiters Žan Mrhar, Gal Oblak

Photo: Nada Žgank

Učene ženske po motivih Molièrovih Učenih žensk– SNG, Maribor

[seen 17/10/16]

I was a huge fan of Jernej Lorenci’s Iliad at BITEF last year.

This adaptation of Molière’s Les Femmes Savantes (full title here, in English: The Educated Ladies after motifs from Molière’s The Educated Ladies) is a rather more difficult proposition.

I should say, first off, that the surtitles were squint-inducingly dim, very high up, badly out-of-sync [although the performance is, I think, improvised, so maybe text surtitles also do it a massive disservice] and that my chair wasn’t the comfiest, so I was not in an ideal position to appreciate very much. Visually the piece is very well made. And I think, postdramatically, it was also incredibly astute (at least, right up to the point where I thought it wasn’t).

The action of the adaptation pretty neatly mirrors the action of the original – performs the same functions – but with all the ornate crap stripped out; the Philippe Starck Louis Ghost version of the original, you might say. However, Lorenci and his dramaturg Matic Starina, don’t appear to have done much to alter the *somewhat* misogynist premises of the original. (Sure, you *could* argue that Molière is more of an equal-opportunities offender than that, but this entire play is premised on the idea that educated women are essentially inherently a) ridiculous, b) pretentious, c) amusing d) more so than men, or it would be men in the title. The only tiny thing in Molière’s favour is that, as a result of being the butts of the joke, the women at least have larger parts/more stage time/more lines.)

I mean, it does feel like there’s an awareness of those premises being problematic. The whole production is in quote marks. The problem of the women is one of superiority and elitism, not pretension per se. Indeed, they really needn’t be women for the comedy to work, such as it is. But nonetheless, they are. Now, I don’t know if Lorenci is skewering some particular, leading Slovenian cultural elitists here, and if he is, perhaps that makes the choice of play breifly understandable.

Except then there’s The Problem of the Plot: very briefly, in the Molière there’s a daughter who wants to marry someone other than the terrible poet that her mother wants her to marry. In this version, this is represented by the daughter and the man she wants to marry, coming in, both stark naked, and sitting about for half the play. And, look, I do get that it’s also dramatically/visually effective, but at the same time, it doesn’t half feel unnecessary. *Then* – in a departure from the Molière, the poet her mother wants the daughter to marry essentially strangles her to death, and leaves her naked body lying on the stage until the end of the play.

I don’t think it really says anything useful, and what little it might be saying is completely overshadowed by what appears to be the crashing misogyny of this gesture. (Although, the piece is devised by the company, so I don’t know who suggested who do what. For all I know it was the woman playing the daughter’s idea...)  But that doesn’t happen until near-the-end, so there’s a lot of wrestling with What’s Are They Trying To Say Here? that goes on before that feels like it negates it all. I have to say, I found the whole thing made me feel cross and rather grubby,

However, the piece did also remind me of what I think is a crucial and emerging trend in mainland European theatre; that is: Theatre that hates theatre; theatre that properly attacks theatre for all the reasons that theatre needs attacking. I mean, yes, sure, maybe it’s an empty gesture. Maybe once everyone’s turned up, it’s a bit naughty for theatre to tell them off for turning up to watch theatre. I certainly don’t see it taking off as *A Thing* in prissy, audience-development-land England, where theatre is held to be A Marvellous Thing; and where we condescendingly don’t want to go confusing New Audiences by telling them that theatre is a criminal, fascistic mechanism of bourgeois power (much less actually attacking New Audiences for their complicity). But, well, there it is. 99 Words For Void did it better, more openly, and more subtly (and, Christ, without anything that could be taken for misogyny), but I think it’s the direction UK theatre needs to head before making nice again.

Anyway, I’ll just leave that thought with you guys.

[Oh, positive Slovenian review of this show:
“At first sight, The Learned Ladies directed by Jernej Lorenci doesn’t have much in common with Molière’s comedy other than the names of the protagonists, the text is, in the vein of an authorial project, not only modernised, but also completely improvised ... Regardless, this is all about detecting identical anomalies which today manifest themselves completely differently, yet in their essence remain almost unchanged. Among these are ostensible knowledge, affectedness, shallow culture, the idolatry of self-proclaimed artists, the intertwining of relevant and pop contents, the contrast between the conservative and the "avant-garde", tiredness, weariness, exhibitionism ... And the eternally questionable and manipulative strategies of achieving goals on the one hand, and the a priori refusal of culture and art as parasitism; all this is presented as an event, as something that should give an image of a real, unmediated project.”
(Peter Rak, Delo)]

Avtorski projekt
SLG Celje in Mestno gledališče Ptuj
The Learned Ladies after the motifs of the Learned Ladies by Molière
Authors of text: ensemble
Director: Jernej Lorenci
Dramaturg: Matic Starina
Set designer: Branko Hojnik
Costume designer: Belinda Radulović
Composer: Branko Rožman
Choreographer and assistant to director: Gregor Luštek
Language consultant: Jože Volk

Monday, 17 October 2016

Wunschkonzert – Lutkovno Gledališče, Maribor

[seen 15/10/16]

Franz Xaver Kroetz’s Wunschkonzert (or Request Programme/Show, or Glasba po željah) is a remarkable play. Written in 1971 [Kroetz would have been 25], and first staged in Stuttgart in 1973, it simply and meticulously details the last hour in the life of a middle-aged woman who commits suicide.

In the script, there are no spoken words – although it is implicit that there will be spoken words in the form of the found text of the titular radio programme to which the suicide, Miss Rasch, listens. In the text, Kroetz suggests the Bavarian evening show Your Request? Hosted by Fred Rauch at 7.15pm every Wednesday; “Beyond Bavaria, a similar radio programme must be found.” he helpfully instructs his directors-to-be. From 1971. This is a helpful frame for the new tensions that now operate between text and production.

Kroetz’s youthful, German, Marxist text now reads quite “coldly” in English – its portrait of the woman who is to take her own life is detached and patrician. To an English reader, it could read more like snobbery than compassion. Rasch is at all times treated more as a symptom, than as a person. Of course, none of that need bleed into the staging. Details are details, and how Kroetz feels about them is neither here nor there when the room has been assembled according to his instructions. So what if the way he chooses to characterise the way Rasch washes herself is “pedantic” (in the English translation at least – perhaps it’s only in English that it reads as snobbery. Perhaps in German it’s just refreshingly direct, but we don’t possess the non-judgemental vocabulary to express it as such in English), if the actress doesn’t play the pedantry, then who’s to know? [This production doesn’t feel like it looks down on its protagonist, for example.]

The next problem of the text/production is how much both popular culture and working conditions have changed since 1971/73. Beyond this, there is also some potential for dispute between the lower-class circumstances of Ms. Rasch’s life and her suicide. We do not know why she commits suicide. Kroetz lightly implies that it is down to ennui, boredom and irritation. And perhaps some people do commit suicide for these reasons. I really don’t know. Wikipedia suggests loneliness.

TR Warszawa and Teatr Łaźnia Nowa Krakow’s production add a whole raft of extra problems to the pre-existing questions that the text raises; the main one being: should the play remain a historical drama about a woman’s suicide in 1971 or should it be updated? If it is updated, what can be allowed to remain?

[There is also here the extra problem of four countries and 45 years now being involved in this simple exchange of information; from Germany (ageing text), to Poland (production), to Slovenia (host theatre and majority audience) to UK (me also watching it and now writing this)]

Over my viewing of the production and writing of this review hovers the ghost of Katie Mitchell’s 2007 Schauspiel Köln production. Which I did not see. But which, having seen photos, being familiar with Mitchell’s work, and having read the play, I think I can almost completely imagine. (It really is excellent.) So there’s a sense of a technically impossible memory haunting this production like a kind of ghost. There are also the ghosts of the various people one has known who have committed suicide.

Beyond this, there are the ever-persistent, never-fully-answered questions about what theatre is for. Is is veracity? Analysis? Authenticity? Symbolism? Metaphor? Research? Catharsis?

Director Yana Ross’s production of Wunschkonzert is, I suppose, set in Poland. It feels as if the production team have actually created the titular radio request programme themselves. As such, the text spoken feels like I might be more loaded than one would otherwise expect. Similarly, the choice of songs seems like it’s been deliberately pulled together to underline some sort of thesis(?) (Daniel by Elton John, I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen, and of course, uh, To Mi Je Všeč by Nina Pušlar...).

More interesting, though, is the effect of globalisation and the internet/comupter games on the piece. In the original Ms Rasch finishes a little woven blanket/rug she’s been making. Yes, sure, the effect of this (even just reading it) is unbearably poignant and more than a little sentimental. Here the blanket/rug has gone. After all, who makes rugs/blankets in 2016? Instead, this section is replaced by Rasch playing Sims on her laptop. The effect of the change, though (even when you don’t know it’s a change – I read the text after seeing the show) is essentially one of reactionary irritation. I mean, the first thing is at the very least a satisfying act of creation. Rasch even looks at the blanket, satisfied. Forgive me, computer games fans, but Sims *really isn’t the same thing*. At the same time, she doesn’t check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 100 other social media sites. Is this symbolic? Does she have so little life online? It seems marginally unlikely, if she’s got this Sims habit. I mean, GOD KNOWS, I’m all for directorial interventions, but this one feels too loaded.

And then there’s the TV programme. It’s a good half hour of Kim Kardashian’s Wedding. I’m really fighting the urge to say that if someone made me watch half an hour of KK’s Wedding, I’d probably be lining up the sleeping pills too. But, yes. Again, without the comfy, sleepy, West Germany-ness of 1971; the somewhat more regimented and low-key offerings on telly and radio, the pitch and point of the thing changes. Perhaps not as much as I’m imagining, and perhaps in its time – in 1971 – whatever was on the telly and the radio then felt just as alienating and futile. But my bet is that is didn’t to quite the same degree. There are, after all, HUNDREDS of channels of EVERYTHING now. And in a way, that can be a problem too. But it’s a different problem. (Similarly, does she kill herself because, well, we’re al a bit sick of IKEA now, right? The entire flat is decked out in the stuff, and Rasch even reads the catalogue for a bit. I mean, *I know*, consumer capitalism sucks, but even so...)

I don’t think I’m saying that the piece *has too* always be a museum piece, but as soon as you bring the modern world in, then the architecture of the piece seems to crumble. When no one can even think of a (lower class) radio request programme to use, can you still meaningfully put on a play called Request Programme? But then, how much do we believe the analysis relating the suicide to class, and then on to loneliness? Who knows? I don’t know how much actual research Kroetz did, or even whether it’s a research play or a thesis play or a symbolic play. It’s interesting as a theatrical problem, though. I definitely don’t have any answers.

Danuta Stenka as Ms Rasch is essentially very good, if perhaps a little bit too reactive. But, again, I don’t know how much that’s deliberate, and how much is also my taste. The production is staged on a little piece of floor standing like an island in the middle of a much larger stage, and we the audience are asked to stand round it. There are (obviously) no walls. So it’s exponentially more difficult for Stenka to pull-off not-eye-meeting naturalism. (Not so much fourth-wall naturalism as 1st, 2nd, 3rd *and* 4th wall naturalism.) But, yeah, like I said, the big problem for me was decisions and reactions being telegraphed just a bit too hard.

What’s brilliant about the play, though, is the apparent unknowingness of the decision process. We really don’t know when Rasch decides to kill herself. It seems to be (to me), at the end, pretty much as she does it. A sudden impulse. But perhaps not. (This productions LOUDLY TICKING CLOCK is not a helpful addition.) Maybe I’m wrong, but people don’t kill themselves because they can’t get to sleep. Or maybe they do. That really is a discomforting thought. And, perhaps this review fails because I’m trying to make a very discomforting piece of work feel like it’s about something more understandable, where the piece itself succeeds (if/where it succeeds) because it does allow suicide to be inexplicable – at least in the moment. I don’t know. I would love to see more productions. Even full-on naturalistic ones. It feels more like a challenge to an actress than Hedda or Hamlet or Blanche or Lear...

Anyway, here’s some excellent Jugoslav pop music:

Dramaturg: Aśka Grochulska
Author of music: Aśka Grochulska, Tomasz Wyszomirski
Production designer: Simona Biekšaitė
Lighting engineer: Mats Öhlin
Curator of the project: Marcin Zawada
Radio broadcaster: Wojciech Mann

Sunday, 16 October 2016

“The Death of the West”

[Sirenos Festival 28/09 – 02/10]

Don’t worry, the title’s taken from something someone else said.

Again, taking a bit more thinking about than I’d have liked.

Postcards from Vilnius – the politics

[Sirenos Festival 28/09 – 02/10]

Sorry. Pending piece again.

This one’s taking much longer than I expected to be write-able.

It’ll probably surface properly once it’s stopped being notes ahead of the panel discussion on censorship at the Arcola on Sunday 23rd.

Come to that, it’ll be good.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Postcards from Vilnius – the papers

[(re)Fresh – 6th Annual Conference for Young Theatre Critics 29/09 – 01/10]

Short intro: alongside watching all the shows detailed in the last two posts (link, link), Ott and myself also moderated a young critics/dramaturgs/etc. conference. Shared below are the abstracts for the papers given. They were REALLY GOOD. Anyone who’s interested in reading a specific paper, I think they’re being published – in English – soon, but I can pass on requests via email if anyone wants one. The Russian and Belarusian papers in particular might be of interest to those of you currently looking for new foreign plays to put on in translation? Elsewhere, the close similarities and vast differences between the theatre cultures in different (European/European-ish) countries are continually fascinating to me, and hopefully you too.

[Oh, and SOMEONE BRITISH PLEASE APPLY NEXT YEAR? It looks bad when it seems we’re never interested. Especially now.]

Rugilė Pukštytė (Vilnius, Lithuania) – To Be Continued (?)

If you‘re a thirty-year-old director, who has created more than 10 performances and has been nominated at least three times for the Golden Cross of the stage awards, does this mean that you have to have your own style, without the possibility of changing your aesthetic or making mistake?

Theatre has its own rules, but now we see, that the “lords” of this world loose their way and forget the rules they had created at the start of their theatrical journey. The word “lord” is used not for nothing; sometimes it appears that the directors of the new generation wear crowns, live in their own kingdoms, and pretend that they don‘t have any contact with past, not paying any attention to those who do not live in their land. In other words, the biggest part of new generation of Lithuanian theatre we could define as “me/ myself/ I”. I am speaking about those who mostly take classical drama works (those who still trust in words more than in other forms) and speak loud that they are changing the look at it, while just quoting the ideas of other directors; or, even worse, earlier works by themselves. The disappointing fact is, their wish to change something mostly isn‘t reached and all we feel seeing their creations is déjà vu.

It is important to note is that we do have a new generation of theatre directors that were interesting at the start of their careers. But now they look like researches of themselves, sometimes reflecting the past or the present, but mostly ignoring it. Of course we can‘t deny the fact that they are different between each other, noticeable and having the potential to change those who could be called as fathers of their theatrical life. But if they want to be loud or reach it, they should deeply think which is their true way and their performances shouldn‘t leave the feeling called „To Be Continued“. In other words, „Maybe Next Time“.

Ksenia Yarosh and Olga Markarian (Saint Petersburg, Russia) – Re-thinking the mythologisation of history in the post-Soviet theatre space: the conflict of the memorial and memory

A new tendency seems to have emerged in documentary theatre: while speaking of today’s history, it is not the present that is being reflected upon with the use of the document/s, but the past. One is trying to make a new sense of the Soviet myth in the post-Soviet space.

More generally speaking, the prism/space of post-Soviet thought is used to re-read this history; the same history, although in different performances and using different sources – peasants’ petitions, letters of the members of “Narodnaya Volya”, Decembrists’ confessions, memoirs of WWI soldiers, denunciations of Stalin’s young guards and their diaries – to re-read the history how a myth of opposition/resistance was created. To revisit the process of turning a document into a myth, of distorting a document.

We would like to take a number of performances presented in St. Petersburg and Moscow (“19.14”, “Rebels” by the Moscow Art Theatre; “A Life for the Tsar” and “Word and Action” by Teatro di Capua; “Young Guards” by Masterskaya [Workshop]) and discuss the conflict of the myth and the document, the memory and the monument, the irretrievable thought, the clash of sarcasm and pathos, the energy of resistance, the refusal to withdraw and the different attempts to fill a document with new energy.

On stage this instigates different theatrical languages, types of theatre, unusual doc.aesthetics. This appears to be one of the ways that allows the theatre to open up and saves the theatre from human and historical optimism.

Anastasia Vasilevitch (Minsk, Belarus) – New drama in Belarus: people and conditions of existence

In Belarus there is an interesting phenomenon of local drama; native playwrights become more popular abroad than at home. For a play to be staged in Belarus it should be first recognised and staged in other countries. The roots of this phenomenon can be found in the Soviet past when all the trends were set by Moscow. Belarusian playwrights, such as Dmitry Bogoslavski, Pavel Pryazhko, Maxim Dosko, Andrey Ivanov, Pavel Rassolko, Andrey Kureichik and Mykola Rudkovsky are very well-known outside the country. Their plays get into shortlists of prestigious drama contests and are staged not only in the neighbouring countries, but even on other continents. In their works, the playwrights touch on social and political themes. Belarusian local reality is often used as material for the plays. However, state theatres give preference to more “loyal” texts, or make a significant “corrections” – removing offensive language and violent episodes from the plays. The only way to deliver an uncensored text to an audience in Belarus is to stage plays in private theatres.

In 2007, the Belarusian Drama Centre was founded, with a mission to popularise native plays. For the last five years the centre has been organising dramatic laboratories, supervised by the leading Russian-speaking playwrights (M. Ugarov, J. Pulinovich, L. Mulmenko and others). Besides this, the centre holds readings of plays, thanks to which the authors can present their plays to the public in their original form. This year, the necessity of modern Belarusian drama was confirmed by a topical and vital performance “Opium” based on a play by V. Korolev. The financing for the staging has been gathered from different local people with help of crowdfunding. As a result, the performance was named “the most honest of the year”.

Francesco Brusa (Chișinău, Romania) – The future is not now but it’s here

Stop The Tempo is the title of a 2003 successful play by the Romanian playwright Gianina Carbunariu that denounces the hopeless condition of new generations in her home-country. At the same time, the expression “stop the tempo” could symbolically represent the battle cry for young theater-makers in the current post-Soviet bloc (and to some extent also in Western Europe).

One of the main issues that the new generations should face in order to make their voice heard is related to the “Post-modern/ism,” and to the peculiar time-space coordinates it creates. Has Postmodernism already ended? Did it ever actually exist? How can we find a way out of it?

Theater seems incapable of producing alternative and reliable “grand-narratives”. Moreover, it seems incapable of speaking about contemporary “youth” as a whole, or offering them a “fresh” political consciousness. But how it is possible to speak about our generation while we don’t even have a clear picture of the times we’re living in?

Fredric Jameson’s words resonate:
The new political art (if it is possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism. That is to say, to its fundamental object – the world space of multinational capital – at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last.
This is one of the major challenges for young theatre-makers and perhaps part of the solution to this challenge. New theatre practices (especially in Eastern Europe) are trying to investigate the condition of new generations by describing the past they come from, the present they’re living in and the future they can possibly achieve. But maybe this is not the right dimension to look at. On the contrary, the “truth” of postmodernism lies in its space. Can (new) theatre represent the latter? Can theatre create a narrative that doesn't unfold time but develops just through a spatial dimension? Stop the tempo, make the space speak out.

Simten Demirkol (Eskişehir, Turkey) – Being a part of this drama

In my country, 20 to 30 years ago the National Theatre was the dream of many actors and a heaven for directors, with big stages, steady pay cheques, staff, crew and reputation. Then, Generation Y came… Fearless, bold yet, impatient, independent. According to research, Generation Y has a free spirit. They are also very sensitive about human rights, racism, gender equality, environment etc. So when they don’t feel good somewhere, they leave. In the last couple of years, I have seen students saying – students of a prestigious [theatre] school, which is very hard to get in to – “I am not going to make theatre, I will go to the countryside. I will grow tomatoes and beans. I will be a part of the nature. I will not be a part of this drama.

Other new graduates form little theatre groups by themselves. Most of them with zero funding from the government. Starving themselves. Forming and deforming. They are angry. In my country young people are still not heard, although they are very loud and very eager to express themselves. Language is coming back. Stories are coming back. But it is time to tell them in a different way. And there are independent stages all over. Mostly in İstanbul, but also in other cities too. And they criticize the traditionalism harshly. But I also wonder, how successful their connection with the audience is. Sometimes I hear the older theatre makers saying, “I know what it is to be young, but you don’t know what it is to be old.”


Teresa Fazan (Warszaw, Poland) – Political themes in young Polish choreography

My paper looks at political themes in Polish modern choreography and performance. Firstly by talking about how creating outside of the mainstream and tackling economic difficulties is a chance to create independent art. Secondly by acknowledging that performance and dance, which usually operate outside linguistic and literal meaning, can paradoxically be more political. By covering those topics, I would like to try to answer the question: are young Polish artists are ready to take an artistic and political stand?

In Poland, many dance projects continue to be under-financed. We are witnessing a shift in popularity of performance, which seem to be gathering more and more interest, but many artists still struggle with poor labour conditions. Paradoxically, this leads to them seeking other means of expression and gives a chance to create strong artistic community. In this way the pieces they create are political at the level of production. When artists create outside the mainstream and tackle economical difficulties, the art they create is truly independent. They not only make a point with the theme of their pieces, but on a higher level; just by the way they produce it, they are taking a stand.

The concept of choreography is expanding beyond the traditional meaning: the boundaries between visual and performance arts are disappearing, creating wide and intriguing space for solo and collective creation. Choreography is expanding to new locations – art galleries, public spaces – which gives it a chance to speak about new topics in new ways. It is often thought that political art has to be very tightly connected to a current context, to speak of and for certain people or groups of people. However taking stand in political discussion is always advocating one side of the conflict and by that, accepting the conflict itself. Art can be political in other way too – it can consciously choose to speak of something else, to give meaning to the life outside of the conflict. And I believe this is what young polish choreographers are successfully pursuing.

Niklas Fullner (Bochum, Germany) – The depiction of humanist acting in Philipp Löhle’s Wir sind keine Barbaren! (Engl.: We're No Barbarians!)

The new generation of theatre makers in Germany cannot be called revolutionary as it mostly follows the theatrical conventions that have been set up by the previous generation. Holding on to these conventions, which are still dominated by the concept of postdramatic theatre, makes it difficult to create a theatre that is rebellious or that takes a stand in the societal discourse. However, the new generation of theatre makers is not homogenous and some are trying to break out of the theatrical traditions which were set down by others. This is true, for example, for the young playwright Philipp Löhle and the plays he has written in the last ten years. In his trilogy of dreamers, as he calls it himself, Löhle tells stories about individuals that oppose the hypocritical ethics of today’s affluent society and develop their own humanist visions. Löhle shows a gap that opens between these individuals and the society they live in which evokes tragedy. But in Löhle’s plays tragedy always appears comical at the same time, which makes it possible to follow his plays without being moralised.

In his newest play Wir sind keine Barbaren! (engl.: We're No Barbarians!), which was premièred at the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis in 2014 and which was shown in many theatres all over Germany in the past two years, Löhle addresses the fear of foreigners in today’s society. In the play the petit bourgeois world of two neighbouring couples falls to pieces when one of the women decides to grant asylum to a foreigner who suddenly appears at night. The narrow-minded world view of our society is revealed in the following arguments of the couples, while the foreigner never appears on stage and his identity stays unclear. Again, Löhle depicts how an individual acts humanistically against the resistance of the society. This aspect of Löhle’s work is highly political and a much needed signal for resistance in today’s societal discourse.

Isabel Gatzke (Hildesheim, Germany) – Being in limbo: how do we (want to) rehearse? 

The proposed work points out, contextualizes and reflects the various positive and negative aspects young theatre-makers have to face during their rehearsal. Reflecting my own artistic work with the theatre collective Roda/Born at the Ruhrtriennale Masterclass, I will take a closer look at the conditions under which theatre collectives on the line between studying and professionalism develop new artistic forms.

In the first part I will give a short introduction to theoretical publications dealing with the process of rehearsing and different ways of creating material for the stage. For this reason I will set out some approaches from Mieke Matzke’s work with SheShePop and how these artists generate content based on their own experience and Rimini Protokoll and their specific ways of doing research during their rehearsals.

After that I will contextualize my own experiences as a theatre-maker during the rehearsals for the Ruhrtriennale Masterclass 2016. For this reason I’m going to describe the structure of how we rehearsed in connection with the different (study)backgrounds we have. This includes external circumstances, time and money difficulties and various approaches to our concept. The main focus of this explanation lies on the question how we produced, wrote and spoke text and, on the other hand, how we tried to pass on content while avoiding text.

At the end I want to draw a conclusion from our experience and the theoretical background to summarize the development of rehearsing up to now but also to show what will change with a new generation of theater-makers and what needs to be optimized to let the rehearsal room the safe place it should be. My aim of this lecture is to share my questions with the other participants to collect ideas and wishes and to develop a new vision of rehearsing.

Maryna Strapko (Poznan, Poland) – Theatre Curator: the artist or the theatre manager? Voices of curators in a theatrical discourse

In my essay I would like to talk about the figure of the theatre curator in various contexts, as well as about the structure and impact of curators on certain Polish projects. [For a useful English equivalent, perhaps read “curator” as creative producer + festival director + building dramaturg]

When speaking about the new generation, it is impossible to ignore the “new” generation in its truest sense, especially in relation to young members of the theatre community – curators. Every year in Poland, in addition to students of various theatrical faculties, young people graduate from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan with a major of „Interdisciplinary curator projects”. Young curators work with topics that concern them personally; they develop project concepts, concentrating on a specific issue or problem, and then seek support and cooperation both with well-known and aspiring directors, actors, performers who have to confront, in creative sense, with these topics.

However, apart from projects that are directly related to theatre or art, curators create new formats of theater festivals today, as well as unique, from ideological and artistic point of view, curatorial projects on sensitive historical and social topics such as: feminism, the Holocaust, the Polish Roma community, LGBTQ+ and others. The degree of importance and influence of current interdisciplinary projects is evident: people write and talk about it more and more, and they cause no less interest than premières in leading theatres of Poland.

Young theatre curators demolish the ossified hierarchy of theatrical sphere and raise new questions about cross-, inter-, transdisciplinarity of the theatre. Nowadays’ curators explore topics of taboos quite differently. Curators include people and history in the theatrical discourse, and thereby cause incredible local discoveries. Curators are people who think about theatre with non-dogmatic intentions.


Kristina Steiblytė (Lithuania) – New Generations = New Identities

Twenty six years of independence brought a lot of changes in Lithuania. Not only have policies changed, but also culture. Some major theatre directors from Soviet period are still active and relevant, but there are also a lot of young people coming into theatre. Every year there are Music and Theatre Academy graduates hoping to succeed in theatre world. There are new acting, directing, and theatre teaching programs opening. Do these produce young people with new ideas, representing changing aesthetic and ideological identities, or are changes impossible with the same old people teaching, leading most of the important theatres, and distributing the money for new performances?

The end of recent theatre season makes one question the possibility of change. Especially when looking at main stages of the country: young directors presenting replicas of their teachers’ works; socially engaged theatre without thorough investigation of the social issue at hand; and great actors of different generations waiting patiently for THE DIRECTOR.

On the other hand, away from the main stages, there are some intriguing things happening. Klaipėda Youth Theatre is showing how a collaborative form of theatre can work. Puppeteers from Klaipėda are experimenting with materials and forms of expression. Could this be the beginning of more decentralised, democratic theatre making, or are we bound to stay in the same comfort zone, replicating the same aesthetic and ideological identities?

This can be tied to a broader theme of identity in Lithuania. On one hand, being members of EU and NATO makes us more cosmopolitan and open to global problems, topics, and aesthetic experiments. On the other, the right turn in politics across Europe cannot be ignored and is also obvious here – in theatre too, with national branding (instead of nation building, important in the interwar period and at least in part during the Soviet occupation) becoming an important part of performances or even theatre’s repertoire.

Karolina Matuszewska (Poland) – The young and talented women of Polish and Lithuanian theatre

They are unruly, expressive, charismatic, and in only a few years have given the theatre a new rhythm and tempo. In last few years there has been a real rash of young and talented theatre directors who consistently demand a place for themselves on the Polish and Lithuanian theatre stage. What interests them? What topics touch them the most? What forms of artistic expression they use?

In my report I’ll present a subjective selection of the most interesting theatre directors, whose performances can be seen today in Poland and Lithuania. I'll try to think about what they have in common and what divides them, and answer the question whether we can talk about a new, wider phenomenon in the theatre, based on a bold mixing of different styles and forms of art.

Ewa Uniejewska (Warszaw, Poland) – “Living Classics” or reanimating a corpse?

The Staging of The Old-time Polish Literature Competition “Living Classics” (“Klasyka Żywa”) was organized to celebrate 250th anniversary of the Polish Theatre. Polish artists were encouraged to look for the old texts written before 1969, i.e. before Witold Gombrowicz’s death, and to stage them. As a result, there were 83 spectacles directed in 56 theatres located in 31 Polish cities. These created a discussion about “classics” as a some kind of a canon or a pattern. Re: staging – on one hand, directors tried to reconstruct the old scenic conventions and to stage the whole play without any shortcuts. On the other hand, they contemporized the old works by using the brand new means of scenic expression and using various dramatic treatments. In the latter case it was apparently easy to replace a Polish cultural code with pop culture (for example in Grażyna directed by Radosław Rychcik the Lithuanian-Teutonic battle was played out as a basketball match accompanied by a gospel chorus).

In my paper I would like to analyse the ways in which young Polish directors tried to re-read classics and answer the recurring question of whether they managed to reanimate the old pieces or just to translate them into much more simpler language of social and cultural communication (basing on the plays presented during the “Living Classics” Competition).

[cover photo: Laura Vansevičienė]

Friday, 7 October 2016

Postcards from Vilnius: the pieces – II

[Sirenos Festival 28/09 – 02/10]

[Nine years ago I got to go to eight Theatre Festivals in Europe as part of the Festivals in Transition, starting at SpielArt in Munich, November 2007, and ending up at Exodos in Ljubljana in November 2008. I’ve written repeatedly about how influential these seminars were in terms of the work I saw, the ways it seemed possible to respond to it, but most of all the sense of being part of a wider network; a sense of “Europe” not just as am idea (and one to which the UK could be actively hostile), but as a set of concrete places where people I knew and loved lived and worked. (Would that the rest of the UK population had also had such experiences.)

The pen-penultimate Festival – hard on the heels of Homo Alibi in Riga – was the Sirenos Festival in Vilnius (after that, just the Nitra Festival in Slovakia (where I saw Sebastian Nübling’s Pornographie), and then on to Ljubljana (Dave St Pierre’s Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde)). Last time it was where I saw Korsunovas’s Hamlet and Arturas Areima’s Road.

But the work this group of young critics saw was only a fraction of the story. Even the fact of our being critics was also only a part of it. Instead, really it was just the fact of being a group of young people from different countries all trying to explain the situations in our various countries – yes, in theatre, but also in terms of culture and politics.

When we all first met, the Berlin Wall had only been down for nearly 18 years. Most of the group had lived at least the first ten years of their lives under dictatorships. And, until the Nitra Festival, capitalism seemed like a fait accompli. It was while we were there, on the last night, after we’d watched Nübling’s Pornography, that the US Congress put the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to a vote and it did not pass. US stock markets dropped 8 percent, the largest percentage drop since Black Monday in 1987. We sat in a cellar bar, our pockets full of Slovakian currency, wondering if capitalism had just died. I don’t think any of us could have even begun to predict the extent of it then.

As such, returning to Lithuania eight years later – at the invitation of one of that original group of young critics, who now seems to be running Lithuania’s Arts Council, along with another of my colleagues from that trip, who is now the editor of Estonia’s weekly Arts newspaper – the most interesting thing was WHAT  THE  HELL  JUST  HAPPENED???

But before I get to that, I should get through writing up the rest of the work we saw, because I now know – having not written up the work we saw eight years ago – that if I don’t do it at the time, I kick myself in the future...]

1st October 2 pm
Director – Eimuntas Nekrošius
Venue – “Meno Fortas” theatre
Duration – 1 hr 30 mins.

The primary conflict in Lithuanian theatre appears to be between metaphor and realism. [Just like in the UK!] In Lithuania, however, it’s the Max Stafford-Clark/Michael Billington generation who are the avowed stage-metaphorists, and the younger generation who yearn for concrete realities and infographics on stage. [Exactly the opposite of the UK!] (I simplify, but only slightly.)

Of course, the context of metaphor in post-Soviet countries is very different to “the West”. During Soviet times, it’s generally held that metaphor was the most effective tool for getting criticism of concrete political realities past the state censor. This led to Eastern European theatre being admired around the world for being much more interesting than the work of its somewhat literal Western counterparts (in the UK/US), where, being allowed to say whatever it liked*, did so; and thus often rather limited the scope of their work to the time and place where it was made and to the people who would put up with being told about what they already knew and hearing viewpoints with which they already agreed. (Germany perhaps dodged this dichotomy by having a) the inheritance of Brecht, b) a foot in both camps c) a concrete reality – in the form of having committed the Holocaust – that facts alone didn’t even begin to touch). Anyway, here we are in 2016. Lithuania is 25/26 years independent, and one of its pair of leading older directors (the other is Rimas Turminas) is presenting his new, highly metaphorical work.

In many many ways, The Hunger Artist is a big departure from Nekrošius’s usual work. Perhaps you saw (the very strange transfer of) his Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2012 as part of the globe to Globe festival? (Hardly ideal, since it was designed to be played in near-darkness and was on at lunchtime in, well, mild drizzle but hardly inky blackness). Anyway, *usually* his work is elemental and austere, designed to be played on vast stages of grand State Theatres. This, on the other hand, is a kind of clownish, studio piece. That said, it’s still got hallmarks of what feel like very “Eastern European” theatre practices, and, more than this, is very definitely one big, massive, *clanging* metaphor.

And, here, it’s the metaphor that feels like the biggest problem. I mean, it’s not a stage-metaphor (although you could take the bare means used and the studio performance space as supplemental to it), it’s really just a long allegorical story, narrated here by the four performers (3m, 1w – playing another man). It’s not so much the fact that it’s a metaphor that’s a problem (although it’s *so* clunky that they really might as well have just said the thing they were getting at), so much as what it’s a metaphor *for*.

Bear in mind Nekrošius’s status as a now-elder director used to being accorded great respect while reading the synopsis: The Hunger Artist is a story about a kind of performer whose ‘art’ is not eating (although the piece goes nowhere near contemporary concerns about eating disorders). This is set in a very unfixed Mittel-Europa (although it could, I guess, be anywhere where hunger isn’t the norm for everyone else too), and, well, it’s firstly a kind of exultation of artists being ‘hungry’, and secondly, it narrates the decline of spectators’ interest in seeing someone being *hungry*. When the hunger artist finally dies, he is replaced at the circus where he’s spent his last few years by a panther, which everyone kinda prefers, even though the panther is not even hungry at all. This is explained in such a way as to make us in the audience aware that this is very much The Wrong Opinion.

I must be forgetting some details, but the absolute pointedness of the analogy makes me wonder how this lot ever got away with anything in Soviet times (to be honest, I always get the impression that there was actually rather more collusion by State censors than anyone feels comfortable admitting since the fall. I think they might have known very well what was actually being said, and the fact that artists had gone to the trouble of pretending to disguise it perhaps seemed like enough deference for them. After all, punishment was hardly evidence-based anyway, so as long as these stage metaphors didn’t prompt any actual insurrection perhaps they were tolerated in the same way that modern Western political satire is tolerated – i.e. mostly, until it isn’t).

So, yeah, it’s very difficult to shake the feeling that one is watching close on two hours of grumpy old man special pleading here. That said, it was fascinating. And it did make me wonder/question a bit the extent of what we do want from our artists, etc. And it was well enough performed. And as stories go, it was engaging enough, if somewhat slow, and potted with far too many false-endings in the last half hour or so.

*as long as there were people prepared to buy tickets to hear it.

1st October 4 pm
Director – Oskaras Koršunovas
Venue – Arts Printing House, Black Hall
Duration – 1 hr 30 mins

Already reviewed.

1st October 6:30 pm 
Director – Gintaras Varnas 
Venue – Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, Main Stage 
Duration – 3 hrs 50 mins (3 acts)

You want to know a funny thing? This is perhaps the performance around which we visiting critics received most ‘coded warnings’. Like: “It is quite long. Don’t feel obliged to stay past the first interval. It doesn’t change much, and you already know the story, right?”

The funny thing is that this is the piece that I saw in Lithuania that was far and away the most comfortingly familiar (to me, as an Anglas). This was National Theatre theatre at its finest: monolithic, too long, too stately, too National, and too “Theatre”. It’s precisely the sort of thing that people come away from feeling that they’ve been done some good. Endured some culture. Etc. etc.

And I actually rather liked it, in a perverse sort of way. I mean, I was reading surtitles, so that helped. And the theatre auditorium was Very Large Indeed – think a kind of Lyttleton-shaped Olivier – so you could just sit back and not really feel too implicated by anything happening (the actors certainly wouldn’t have noticed if I’d left). And the stage pictures were quite pretty, in a conservative, glacial sort of way. You certainly didn’t miss any action while having to read the surtitles. The translation seemed rather fine, and it’d been a while since I’d read Oedipus.

And, well, let’s be honest, you have to pull out rather more stops than a pretty set and blokes in suits to make Oedipus feel *surprising*, don’t you? I mean, we all know what’s going to happen, and if we’re a critic, we maybe even feel the acute inevitability of each scene, the back and forth-ness, the achingly gradual realisation dawning on literature’s slowest thinker.

What was striking was the familiarity of the tone and the rhythm and the style of speaking. This was dead theatre, par excellence. I dare say you could even use it as a kind of monitoring machine to see if other theatre was dead. And yet, in this deathliness was a strange kind of attraction and appeal. No, it’s not the sort of thing that’s going to draw new audiences to the theatre, or to the Greeks, as Rob Icke’s Oresteia did. No, it didn’t even really awaken any sense of The Greeks, as Lithuanian director, Cezaris Graužinis, did in Epidavros. What it did do, though, is affirm some sort of Universal European Nothingyness, which I think is perhaps rather dangerous. This was a take on the Mediterranean redolent of The Knights Templar, the middle ages, Teutonic Castles, and Catholicism. In short, precisely everything that has nothing whatsoever to do with the place that it came from, enacted as both a homage to it, and a defence against it. That is to say, it is nonsense to claim that The Greeks were somehow definitively “Western” and their victory against the “Eastern” Persians somehow a categorically definiting cultural moment. And it is striking that so many of Europe’s current problems spring from the attempt to uphold this ancient category error.

None of this is to say that I mind adaptations, or that this one couldn’t have felt more lively if “lively” had been a thought anyone had at any stag during the rehearsal process. But, yes; it did make me think about “Europe” and “The West” a great deal.

1st October 11:00 pm
Director – Karolis Vilkas
Venue – Vilnius Theatre “Lėlė”
Duration – 1 hr

Perhaps my favourite piece that I saw in Lithuania was also my last. I should admit that on many levels – everything from dramaturgical to technical – this was An Incredible Mess. But it was also far and away the most exciting, original, instructive, inspiring and thought-provoking. Perhaps precisely because of its roughness.

Following the show, a colleague and myself tried to recount the “plot” to another colleague who’d missed it. I say “plot”. Really it was more like that definition of history from The History Boys – “Just one fucking thing after another...”: First there’s a baby on stage. Then maybe a gorilla? Then perhaps two gorillas? All of this in near-darkness. Also, mad music. Then the whole stage is flooded in light and ALL THE PEOPLE come on and perform mundane chores for what feels like forever. One girl lights what must be over 50 candles. Someone else hoovers. A bloke does weights. A woman puts on make-up. Another woman punches one of those boxing things. A bloke at the back smashes up and angle-grinds several pieces of furnitures. There are A LOT of people on stage.

They then disappear again, except for the woman with the candles at the front, who is covered in flowers, and just lies there. Two gorillas come on and sit at the front of the stage and smoke. The smoke gets caught in the gorilla mask and smoke blows out of every hole. One of the gorillas takes off its gorilla head to reveal a giant papier maché baby’s head. The other gorilla leaves? A knight in armour comes on and menaces the baby. (My second knight in armour this year. I really approve of this new zeitgeist signifier. See: Jan Klata’s H[amlet] for the Ur- theatre-knight?)

The knight fights a puppet dragon. The knight kills the dragon, and seems to be killed himself, until he is revived by a performer dressed as a Japanese schoolgirl who has just thrown a coin into a wishing well wheeled on specifically for her to do so and then wheeled off again...

I mean, more things happen after all that, but you get the picture. Random doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Part of me uncharitably wondered if, graduating from the drama academy classes of these great Metaphorists, and perhaps simultaneously aching for realism but also knowing where the bread was buttered, the director and classmates made this in an attempt to satiate and short-circuit the metaphor-drive in their educators once and for all. I mean, this is the show to end all allegories. You could analyse it forever and never hope to reach the bottom. A bottom at which you may discover there is nothing to discover anyway. But at the same time, on the way down you could like an academic have unpacked your entire cultural history with words. I won’t try. I’d feel silly. I certainly had several thoughts about the sort of battle between the baby and the knight. You could put that in any show (in Europe) ever, and I think it would speak *volumes* to *every single person*. Possibly beyond Europe too, although I think it would just say “Europe” once you got as far as the middle east, over the Caucausus, or over and significant oceans. Within Europe, though, it seems to speak to/about so much of our history and culture.

Of course, I’m using a rather imprecise formulation of “Europe” there. Perhaps there are people who are now Europeans for whom the image will not resonate at all, or for whom it is a symbol emnity rather than a rather clunkily achieved acculturated familiarity.

These questions will come up again, in the next bit, I suspect...