Feature about Theatre of Europe in 12 Star Magazine

This month’s edition of 12 Star Magazine, a regular round-up of all the major highlights of European cultural activities in the UK, features an interview with Theatre of Europe’s Artistic Director, Henriette Morrison. To read on the web-page of 12 Star Magazine, click here.

Theatre of Europe
by Sarah Edworthy 29 May 2013

Prolonged applause. A standing ovation. Shouts of encore! These are the classic signs that an audience has appreciated a theatrical production… But calling the police? What kind of accolade is that?

An apt one, it turns out, for Bicycle Thieves, an outdoor performance based on Luigi Bartolini’s 1946 novel Ladri di biciclette, which was staged by Pip Productions in view of the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, in 2011. Several 999 calls were made by honest citizens who happened to pass by the dramatic action and thought they were witnessing the genuine nicking of a set of wheels.

“They were magical moments! It meant the production was so real,” laughs director Henriette Morrison. “But what was most gratifying was hearing a group of young kids at the end say, ‘That was SO much better than TV’.”

As artistic director of Pip Productions – a theatre company she founded in 2004 while studying modern languages at the University of St Andrews – Morrison aims to expose a wider range of people to new aspects of culture. Her company works with artists from different disciplines to create genre-defying adaptations of classics for atmospheric locations. The Pip production of Bicycle Thieves, for example, was set in a BMX community, performed as a promenade piece in and around a skate bowl, and powered by electricity generated by cast and audience members pedalling on bicycles. It set out to create a true theatrical experience that would leave the audience ‘out of breath, emotionally’.

Next autumn Morrison will apply that same principle to the official launch of Theatre of Europe – a rolling programme of events, not a building – through which she intends to introduce visionary European directors who will create exceptional work for London, in English, whilst collaborating with the best of British theatre talent. The work will be international, interdisciplinary and endlessly imaginative.

“I am half French, and France is interesting theatre-wise because it hosts a lot of European work. I feel lucky to have seen so many exciting productions in Paris or Avignon, but also sad because in London we miss out on that exchange,” she says.

“I saw there is a gap in the market. It’s too risky and too expensive for European directors to come and work in London. Theatres are scared they might not get the audience numbers they need and some of the great directors are on massive budgets which are just not attainable here. So, rather than bringing a fully prepared show with 50 people, we’re asking these innovatory directors to come out of their comfort zone a little bit and work in the British way and we’re asking British creatives to work in quite different ways too. The result should be something very exciting,” she enthuses.

Morrison aims to launch Theatre of Europe in Autumn 2014 after a year spent running a series of residencies to allow her hand-picked European directors to come to London for a week of familiarisation with the city and potential collaborators, and to recce venues and spaces. The plan is to announce three shows which will run in Autumn 2014, New Year 2015 and Spring 2015. While many of the details are to be confirmed, we can reveal Theatre of Europe will open with a new adaptation of Six Characters in Search of an Authorby Athina Kasiou, a director from the National Theatre in Cyprus (see a picture of his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream above). The second project will be smaller, an uplifting and visceral French collaboration developed by writer/director Stephane Olry and choreographer Sandrine Buring during two years in intermittent residency in a hospice for severely handicapped children.

“My aim is to try to pick a representative showcase of people doing very different work from different backgrounds on different scales. For example, the French team’s piece works for small, intimate audiences, but I’m also talking to Nicolas Stemann in Germany who is directing a production of the Bible that will tour across Europe in 2015 – so a slightly more epic scale! I am also consciously looking for the unexpected, the avant garde.”

Where does she look for talent? There is the well-established festival circuit, of course, which its opportunities for research, the forging of new contacts and networking. The annual Festival Via in northern France and Belgium, for example, brings together more than 120 programmers and festival organisers to share their offerings, from tiny festivals in Turin to large-scale events in Poland.

And then there is Morrison’s personal contacts book. After St Andrews, she went on to take an MA in Theatre Directing based on a stimulating international programme which led her both to study the Russian theatrical experimentalists Constantin Stanislavski and Vsevolod Meyerhold in Moscow and – travelling to a different hemisphere – to explore the artistry involved masks, dance and shadow-puppetry in Bali. Her contacts were further boosted by a spell at a literary agency, specialising in foreign licensing, which necessitated much interaction with theatres and agencies across Europe.

“I find the process of programming fascinating. I’m communicating with cultural attaches, who are very supportive, but the idea is to create a very varied programme so we’ve been talking to the likes of Oskaras Koršunovas from Lithuania, to artists in Romania, Italy, Germany… The list is wonderfully endless because there are so many talented people out there. I try and see as much of the work as possible. It’s an ongoing process and quite organic.”

The aim is to schedule a rolling season. “The beauty of not being based in a theatre building means that we can programme as many or as few projects as we want. It’s very liberating. It’s the way National Theatre Wales and the National Theatre of Scotland operate their programmes so brilliantly. They have an HQ and a programme that is staged in various locations around the UK.”

Morrison’s determination to widen access to European theatrical perspectives stems from her own rewarding personal experience. Her most memorable production of Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet directed by Oskaras Koršunovas. As evidence that Theatre of Europe will flourish in London, she cites as inspiration Patrice Chéreau’s show, I am the Wind, which was performed at the Young Vic. “What I found fascinating was how 300 audience members came out saying, ‘Wow! That was something a bit different’. It was a unique director’s vision and also a very French cultural experience. For an evening, everyone felt like that they’d been transported to France and that is a wonderful thing.”

Theatre of Europe: watch this space.  
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