WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL 2014.
This September, for the twelfth time, the World Theatre Festival strives to develop a strategy for artistic and cultural education, part of which is to introduce cultural workers and the general public to the highest quality works of the past seasons. This formula calls for the accessibility of great theatrical achievements in the spirit of curiosity, discovery and exchange of different experiences. The World Theatre Festival challenges professionals with contemporary theatrical practices, it provides students with new approaches to creating, observing and studying performing arts, and offers audiences the unique pleasure of witnessing the best of drama, just like audiences in other European capitals. The concept of presenting master directors alongside innovative young authors continues to be the focus of our interest.
Five plays will be presented on the stages of the Croatian National Theatre, the Zagreb Youth Theatre and Scena Travno, as well as on the outdoor stages in the city centre. For the first time Croatian audiences will be able to see plays by Martin Kušej, one of the most important author-directors of the German theatre, and Declan Donnellan, the co-founder of the English theatre company Cheek by Jowl and author of the book The Actor and the Target. The Australian Back to Back Theatre ensemble regularly performs on the world's most important stages, and Zagreb audiences are familiar with Peeping Tom company, always awaiting their new works with curiosity. The stage of the Croatian National Theatre will also host the world premiere of the latest performance by the Spanish artist Angélica Liddell. Presenting a range of works, from reinterpretations of modernist classics by Alfred Jarry and Reiner Werner Fassbinder, to powerful works exploring the chaos of modern times, the World Theatre Festival brings the most intriguing works of recent seasons to our theatre stages.
Peeping Tom will present their play Vader (Father), which takes place in the hall of an old people’s home with high walls echoing the lost steps, underlining the hopelessness of a basement world. In the centre of this anteroom, a place between life and death, is the figure of the father, gradually moving further and further away from the world of the living. With a unique and characteristic virtuosity, Peeping Tom company has taken a familiar theme and turned it into a memorable surrealist experiment, taking us through their mysterious scenes, away from the grey reality of a nursing home and into the home of dreams.
From New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin to Helsinki, the Australian ensemble Back to Back Theatre have been presenting the best of contemporary theatre from the faraway continent. Their play Ganesh Versus the Third Reich has played all over the world for good reason. Back to Back Theatre testifies to the resilient nature of theatre in the age of virtual reality and the world of numbers, where the quality of the forms and the actors’ performances depend exclusively on the media ‘value’ of the playwrights, directors and actors. This ensemble has been building their reputation for years, ever since 1987, when they started with collective projects based on joint research and long-term experiments. The result is a powerful, coherent body of work based on an impressive dramaturgy of collage and a powerful ethical effect. Like in the enigmatic films and TV series of the new generation, the plot of the play is based on a mime that challenges the imagination and constantly threatens to explode. Ganesh, from the title of the play, the elephant-headed deity, decides to reclaim the swastika, an ancient Hindu symbol taken by the Third Reich and turned into the greatest symbol of evil. The text of the play is in fact a diary of a long journey through Switzerland and Germany during the war.
Their theatre knows no traditional linear dramaturgy. Each performance is a kind of experiment in the presence of the director, and its outcome, like in a performance, depends on many factors. The ensemble is made up of artists with mental disabilities or, to put it the words of the ensemble, "people perceived as being disabled". Play after play, combining micro elements of the performers’ personal confessions with grand historical narratives and fiction, the ensemble’s director tries to speak out about power games that bring out the worst in humans. Actors are not kind to themselves while representing themselves, in burlesque situations causing bouts of laughter or a covert smile as the audience refrains from laughing at people with disabilities. Back to Back Theatre’s stage design is made up of old-fashioned pieces made by local artisans who can create simple objects. There’s no sign of new technologies; curtains are drawn by hand, and thanks to these little crafts scenes occasionally resemble Chinese shadow plays, and certain objects assume strong symbolic connotations. All magical scenes from the play are simultaneously shown in their daily, ordinary light that makes things ugly. The sole nature of acting is being questioned: can one represent Hitler? How to play him? Who is responsible for the message that could seep out from under the images using odious symbols? Actors invite the audience to join in the communal act of deciphering the metaphorical treasure, and to share in the responsibility. Five actors - Simon Laherty, Mark Deans, Scott Price, Brian Tilley and David Woods - act it as a comedy, or what Heiner Müller called ‘a piece', passing directly from the fiction of the play onto the conditionality of the performers, constantly faced with the need to reassess their relationship with the role that they "embody", literally. From the daily director’s "fascism" to the institutionalized fascism, as well as the historical fascism, micro narratives of the protagonists of this ensemble merge with the grand narratives of the history of the world. Back to Back Theatre, as their name suggests, reject any firm concepts, turning them upside down to expose the vulnerability and transience of human beings.
"Believe me,” confides Petra von Kant to her friend Sidonie von Grasenabb, “I'm glad I experienced all that happened, just as it happened. No one can take away the things you learn in life. It gives you maturity.” These words of wisdom sound as if they were spoken by a heroine of a Greek tragedy, but at the same time they resemble lines from a TV series, bombarding our screens incessantly, where great thoughts intermingle with banal situations. When Petra, so elegant, so distinguished, talks about the failure of her marriage to Frank, partly due to her success in the world of high fashion, she seems completely calm, even happy to have learned a lesson from her endeavours, and she’s completely focused on her future professional exploits. Her mother lends her money, her daughter is attending an elite college, her faithful Marlène silently watches over her work and fulfils all her mistress’ wishes. Everything seems perfect and under control. There’s absolutely nothing to suggest that her entire life will be turned upside down in a single moment. Indeed, only fifteen minutes later, a bomb will explode and shatter the stable building where Petra’s peace resided, a bomb called Karin.
And in 2012, the highest Germany theatre honour, the Faust Award, was given to director Martin Kušej for his staging of this cult text. Kušej is the Artistic Director of the Residenz Theatre in Munich, the famous theatre that has quickly earned its place at the top of European theatre with its explorations and daring repertoire. With his brilliant cast of actresses - Bibiana Beglau, Sophie von Kessel, Elisa Pluss, Elisabeth Schwarz, Michael Steiger and Andrea Wenzl - Kušej has not only updated Fassbinder's classic text, but has created a completely new, radical vision in a quadrifrontal form, similar to a glass cube that enhances the sense of violence and cruel disappointment following the failure of a crazy love.
What can King Ubu say to us today? For a whole century theatres have been swamped with different versions of this story of a crazy dictator, and as a fictional character he has given shape to many a tyrant who ruled around the world after he was created. When Alfred Jarry conceived this farce with his friends from high school in Rennes he paved the way for the surrealists and the theatre of the absurd, and the echoes of it have been so strong that they can also be heard in Gordogan by our classic author Radovan Ivšić. Ubu has become a symbol of all dictators lead by madness and passion for absolute power, and it was his shadows of the absurd that shaped and represented tyrants from Ceausescu to Pol Pot.
This play is in the repertoire of many theatres around the world, from those with the greatest stages to amateur school theatres, and its status is confirmed by the fact that it was staged by some of the greatest French theatre directors - such as Jean Vilar, Antoine Vitez, Bernard Sobel and Jean-Pierre Vincent. But modernity ages as quickly as traditional values. Today Jarry’s piece is regarded as a heavy farce that resists staging. Directed by Declan Donnellan, the most famous English drama theatre director and the leader of the renowned company Cheek by Jowl, this play has acquired quite a new guise, so new and lucid, different from anything his French predecessors did.
Donnellan, a famous interpreter of Shakespeare, and a great expert on his work, has stripped the traditional style of interpretation of verbal dominance and turned it into a modern combination of choreography and sound virtuosity, exposing unique oneiric dimensions, long after Peter Brook, whom he calls his predecessor.
Declan Donnellan is one of the few authors that were missing from the long line of master directors whose works have so far been presented at the World Theatre Festival. This author of the famous book The Actor and the Target demonstrates to us, with French actors, too, the irresistible charm of Jarry's classic in a lively and intelligent play full of pleasure. And it lacks that unbearable distortion and exaggeration often found in this play about a greedy couple planning to kill Venceslas. Father Ubu and Mother Ubu will do anything to grab the throne, whereas violence and murder are just games that they have fun playing, like small kids. Donnellan’s play opens in a refined British manner; an adolescent is filming the apartment of his parents. With a documentarist’s commitment he records raw meat, sheets in the bedroom, traces in the bathroom... A true master of the game here is a son who enjoys subjugating his parents.
Like in his Elizabethan plays, Declan Donnellan exposes our hidden animality that rears its head at the slightest sign of a possibility that it could exist in daylight. The play was brought up to date and in an incredibly effective way it portrays today's society with its rituals of "healthy meals", "pleasant ambience", "the cult of cuisine ". From a leg of lamb, ketchup, cheese, spices, and finally to the dessert, we find ourselves in the absurd world that very much resembles the one of Monty Python. A nightmare or a phantasm? - might be the question asked by the adolescent in a period of crisis, who sees his parents transformed into monsters, or big children who have forgotten have to behave in civilization.
The scandal that would have been caused by a cry of "Oh, shit!" in 1896, today is often merely trite, but with masterly taste and a sense of contrast, Declan Donnellan leads us straight into the early days of psychoanalysis, where the potential of Ubu reveals our lowest instincts. This living theatre bursting with lucid energy is a brilliant blend of French classical modernity and contemporary British theatre direction.
In the play You are My Destiny (The Rape of Lucretia) which was co-produced by the World Theatre Festival, the enfant terrible of Spanish theatre Angélica Liddell was inspired by the myth of the faithful Roman wife of the Etruscan general Collatinus who was raped by Sextus Tarquinius, son of the tyrant Tarquin the Proud.
We are proud that, in this twelfth year, despite our tender age and vulnerable times, we have a loyal audience characterized by a spirit of curiosity and support for the festival. We appreciate this audience’s loyalty and we will make sure that it continues for our future editions.
Dubravka Vrgoč and Ivica Buljan