This year I attended the Festival d’Avignon with the generous backing of the Institut Français de Londres and the British Council in my new role as director of Theatre of Europe in London.
My trip began with a blast (quite literally as each audience member was handed ear plugs on arrival!) with Romeo Castellucci’s new piece The Four Seasons Reastaurant. It was a truly awe-inspiring experience and unlike anything I have ever seen – beautiful and stark leaving me both drained and exhilarated at the same time. Next was Arthur Nauzyciel’s version of The Seagull in the Cour d’Honneur du Palais des Papes, the Festival d’Avignon’s headline venue. It is an impressive and intimidating space to fill (it was after all built to be the palace of the Popes 700 years ago) and physically the performance inhabited it well. Although I am very interested to see more of Nauzyciel’s work I found the actual production laborious and unfortunately for me reached the end feeling as if I’d rather missed the point. I was completely transported the following day by the work of Sandrine Buring and Stéphane Olry and their double bill CH(OSE) / HIC SUNT LEONES. It took place in la Chartreuse, a little way out of Avignon, which was an adventure in itself to find. Their pieces were visceral and beautiful. Both plays conveyed so much about disability using very simple but poignant means and we, the audience, were unanimously in a state of refreshing shock as we exited the performance space bleary eyed and dazed.
Perhaps my favourite piece of all at this year’s Festival d’Avignon was Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns. Eine Wirtschaftskomodie for its sheer audacity. Under the direction of Nicolas Stemann, Elfriede Jelinek’s text came to life in a most surprising and gripping way. We were actually encouraged by Nicolas Stemmann to leave our seats when we wanted to stretch our legs (the show was over four hours long without an interval) but very few actually did!
With Simon McBurney as associate artist to this 66th Festival d’Avignon there was a significantly Anglophone theme in the programming but there were too few Anglophone spectators. The Festival d’Avignon is widely recognised as the world’s leading international theatre festival in terms of quality and quantity of work generated and yet it is virtually unheard of on this side of the pond. The sad truth is that we are missing out! For me personally this was an invaluable trip – an extraordinary opportunity to not only see the works of so many ground breaking artists but to meet them too. Avignon in July is without a doubt the international theatre industry’s Mecca!
- Henriete Morrison