My first halt on arrival was in the Off, a play entitled Tom a la ferme by Michel Marc Bouhard at the Théâtre du Chêne Noir. Although the production was not life changing it was certainly topical, sparking great debate as we left the theatre and giving me insight into current French theatre trends. The unexpected turbulence and hostility involved in getting the law voted for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples in France still fresh in everyone’s minds the play dealt with a young man arriving unrecognised at the funeral of his partner.
The next morning was devoted to Rimini Protokoll’s Remote Avignon. Rimini Protokoll is the label for projects created by Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel – leading artists in boundary-breaking documentary theatre from Germany and Austria and Remote Avignon was no exception. Equipped with headsets and radios we were choreographed in and around life in the city, winding our way into the university’s main amphitheatre, underground car parks and little back streets. At times we moved in small groups and then came back together at fitting moments. At other times we moved as a large pack down busy streets – starting a demonstration and running a 100m sprint – it was thrilling!
That afternoon I caught Silvia Albarella and Anne Tismer’s Non-Tutta followed by Lazare’s Au pied du mur sans porte. Non-Tutta is a live art piece exploring histrionic personality disorder and this bleak subject was delivered with sensitivity and humour. Au pied du mur sans porte required thicker skin. An autobiographical piece about Lazare’s childhood – a young man of Algerian heritage growing up in the suburbs. It was a high octane but very inventive patchwork of hard truths. To conclude the evening I saw Falk Richter and Anouk Van Dijk’s Rausch in the sumptuous courtyard of the Lycée Saint-Joseph. A mixture of dance and theatre with an unusual take on the world financial crisis through the eyes of today’s youth. Most of the performers were actual teenagers and I have rarely seen theatre and dance blurred so beautifully.
The following day I attended Ateliers Europe – a panel discussion led by Michel Magnier (Director of Culture and Creativity at the European Commission), Anne-Marie Autissier (Sociologist and Professor at Paris VIII University) and Pascal Brunet (Director of Relais Culture Europe). This was valuable insight into strategies for culture in France and plans for the new European programmes for Culture over 2014-2020. It was interesting for me to observe how French arts organisations are working together to influence the budget distribution for the European culture programme.
Then I embarked on a four-hour wait for a return ticket to Krzysztof Warlikowski’s Kabaret warszawski. In searing heat we waited outside the Festival d’Avignon’s brand new space, La Fabrica. I was fourth in the queue after a group of actors from Poland who had hitchhiked their way to Avignon especially to see the show and as time passed over one hundred and fifty people joined us in the hope of being able to purchase a ticket. Half an hour before the performance’s start time the gates to La Fabrica were opened and given the convivial atmosphere I expected us all to file in in an orderly line – not so. Suddenly, people were running as fast they could towards the ticket office. Having started in pole position I suddenly found myself at the back of the queue with a mob around me almost coming to blows! It was mortifying and although peace was eventually restored this graceless and unnecessary behaviour left a nasty taste in the mouth. I did succeed in getting a ticket in the end and although it was not worth the squabbles it was definitely worth the wait. To the viewer unfamiliar with the material being explored Kabaret warszawski is disjointed in parts but Krzysztof Warlikowski’s direction is such a force of nature and the highly skilled performers in his company kept us on the edge of our seats the whole way.
The grand finale to my trip was Cour d’honneur – a new creation by Jérôme Bel inviting a group of theatregoers to share their recollections of the cour d’honneur. On the face of it his idea might not seem so innovating or new but as with all of Jerôme Bel’s work the show simply took your breath away. I have never experienced the cour d’honneur du Palais des Papes in more glory, nor have I ever felt closer to a group of non-actors on stage before. Each account delicately retold by fourteen ordinary people with such authenticity and conviction hat one wholeheartedly shared in their thrills and disappointments. The pace was perfect, we were drawn in by these wonderful stories and then, as if by magic, some of these memories came to life with the original performers on stage sending shivers down our spines and leaving indelible traces around the Cour d’Honneur. I could not have wished for a more superb way to conclude my Avignon adventures.
- Henriette Morrison