bulletin Special bulletin edition, 26 october 2012
A critical gathering When Maribor Theatre Festival director Alja Predan invited the International Association of Theatre Critics to hold a young critics’ seminar in Maribor during the 2012 programme, we accepted with enthusiasm. It had been the great pleasure of the executive committee of IATC to be hosted by the Festival in 2010, so we were well aware of the tremendous hospitality of Ms Predan and her staff, and of the great energy of Maribor as a theatre city. Not only that, but it was an honour for IATC to play its own small part in Maribor’s 2012 European Capital of Culture celebrations. Coming from the Scottish city of Glasgow, which had a famously successful Capital of Culture year in 1990, I know very well the importance of being designated as an artistic hub for our continent. The IATC, which was established under UNESCO statute in 1956, brings together professional theatre critics from all over the globe. The young critics’ seminar programme is, without question, one of the most important aspects of our work. At least twice a year we gather together young, professional critics from various nations at a host festival. In seminar groups led by experienced critics they have in-depth discussions, not only about the work staged by the festival, but also about theatre and theatre criticism in the host nation and in the nations of the various participants. Here in Maribor, my colleague Philippe du Vignal (former director of the Chaillot Theatre School in Paris) and I were delighted to act as monitors to 11 young critics from three continents. Namely, working in English: Alina Epingeac (Romania), Yuh Jhung Hwang (South Korea), Marek Lollok (Czech Republic), Anne Manyara (Kenya), Imola Márton (Romania), Viliya Monovska
(Bulgaria), Maria Säkö (Finland), Ionut Sociu (Romania) and Rares Tileaga (Romania). Working in French: Larisa Daugul (Slovenia) and Gergana Stoytcheva (Bulgaria). In the pages that follow you will find six English-language reviews written by a selection of these young critics. As editor of these reviews, I am pleased and proud to find that all of our young critics are striving successfully to write with the combination of style, knowledge and honesty which is championed by IATC. I always insist that a professional theatre critic should write, in the lyric of the great Australian rock star and author Nick Cave, “without mercy or malice”. I hope you will agree that the reviews which follow are written in accordance with that advice. The young critics have departed Maribor with fond memories, an enhanced sense of their chosen profession, new friendships and vivid impressions of Slovenian theatre. They, Monsieur du Vignal, myself and
IATC thank Alja Predan, Mojca Planšak, their wonderful team of volunteers, the Maribot Theatre Festival and the city of Maribor for their extraordinary support and hospitality. We also thank Ksenija Repina Kramberger, editor of this bulletin, for the opportunity to publish this special edition. Mark Brown
Mark Brown is Adjunct Director of Seminars for IATC and a member of the IATC executive committee. He is theatre critic for the Scottish national newspaper the Sunday Herald and Scottish performing arts critic for the UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph. He teaches in theatre studies and theatre criticism at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He also served on the jury of experts at this year’s Maribor Theatre Festival.
Seminar participants, Festival staff and volunteers with, kneeling from left to right, Philippe du Vignal, Mark Brown and Alja Predan photo: matej kristovič
Reviews, edited by Mark Brown
When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing Review by Marek Lollok (Czech Republic)
The opening production of the Festival – Heiner Goebbels’s When the Mountain Changed Its Clothing – was actually a sui generis concert. With 40 girls and young women (aged between 10 and 20) from the famous Maribor choir Carmina Slovenica, the director created a precise polyphonic work about the elemental issues of human life. In a montage of singing, dancing, choreographical passages, acting, projected imagery and other techniques, Goebbels touches upon the topics of family, relationships, death and belief. From the very beginning the group exhibits great energy. It is obvious that the girls are used to moving on stage and they are very musical. They performed several abstract choreographies; in the first part, with chairs and, later, costumed in front of a screen. During the performance they spoke English (without any problems), whilst the songs were mostly in Slovene.
Many key situations of modern life were explored, especially in the second half. Goebbels´s piece was based on post-dramatic methods. Some text by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gertrude Stein, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ian McEwan and others had been chosen and loosely connected together. The accent on soundscape and visual presentation was also typical. However, after the show, Goebbels admitted that his previous workshops and rehearsals were primarily intuitive and associative. For instance, he didn´t explain any meanings of the texts to the girls. There were some rare moments in which the girls appeared to be directed too strictly, and in which it was clear they lacked a deeper understanding of the texts. However, taken as a whole, the performance impressed and raised questions about important anthropological matters.
Further Than the Furthest Thing Review by Alina Epîngeac (Romania)
This staging by Ljubljana City Theatre captures in a subtle way the dense atmosphere and strangeness of the text. Tristan de Cunha, the remotest of inhabited islands, is suggested more through acting and light design than through the shabby set. There is little aesthetic value in the small pieces of furniture and glass boxes scattered around the stage, in an attempt to create a symbolic division of the spaces. By contrast, the actors give fine expres2
sion to the difficult dialect of Alenka Klabus Vesel’s translation. I don’t speak Slovenian, but I could, nevertheless, appreciate the rhythm and tone of Vesel’s text. Judita Zidar, in the role of the Tristan Islanders’ matriarch Mill, accomplished a refined portrait of a woman burdened by guilt and remorse. In fact, her powerful monologue (in which she recalls a time of starvation and tragic sacrifice), I consider to be the best moment I experienced during the Festival. This is a play about humanity, greed, human failings and redemption. In this production, Harris’s wonderful script is successfully delivered by both its Slovene translator and the cast.
Zinnie Harris’s play Further Than the Furthest Thing is set on a remote island, where people constantly face solitude and the threat of starvation. The one thing that keeps them going is the sense of togetherness; which they have through a common religion and ancestral ties which bind them. The drama speaks in a remarkable manner about how the fibre of humanity is both fragile and strong, and how easy it is to upset a special social equilibrium which cannot be fathomed by outsiders.
Mandićmachine Review by Yuh J. Hwang (South Korea)
It could be said that Mandićmachine is the most controversial performance of the Maribor Theatre Festival. One’s response to actor Marko Mandić’s one-man show is characterised by a panoply of negative adjectives, ranging from “disgusting” to “embarrassing”. This is due to the fact that its theatrical language is constituted predominantly by such features as shouting, gratuitous nudity, pissing and simulated masturbation. Whilst reprising short extracts from his past roles, from Greek tragedy to Slovenian plays, Mandić frequently selects an audience member to bring on stage. Such is the aggression of the actor’s technique that each audience member appears to be a victim rather than an active participant; none of those chosen appears to be engaged by their involvement, rather they seem to be numbed by it.
Furthermore, when the actor appears to be trying to ejaculate, the audience’s uneasiness reaches its peak. In this scene, Mandić seems to be an almost monstrous figure; a person who does not care about any shame at all, rather than an actor performing dramatic characters. However, ironically, this very moment makes one aware that the objective of this show is to push both audience response and acting to their extremes. In so doing, Mandić blurs the boundaries between things that he cannot act (such as the physical instinct of actually ejaculating) and things that he can perform, and between the human and the inhuman on the stage. This explains why the production is so problematic, at least in the sense that it keeps calling into question the authenticity of theatre itself.
Three Sisters Review by Anne Manyara (Kenya) On October 18, 2012 the Old Hall of the Slovenian National Theatre in Maribor was set for Oliver Frljić’s production of what turned out to be an inexplicable attempt to cram Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters into an hour and 20 minutes.
tiberiu marta mare mutić
The play begins with Vesna Jevnikar, in front of the curtain, spewing out Olga’s words with great haste. She is joined by the rest of the cast who stand on stage as a chorus and continue to recite the lines, punctuated with laughter, in a call-and-response, semi-choreographed style. The play rattles on in this manner up to the point where Andrei proposes to Natasha, and, as he kisses her, the curtain rises to reveal the rest of the cast in a row of period-style chairs, all paired up, kissing.
This homosexual and heterosexual kissing had no meaning for me other than to say, “look at us pushing the boundaries and questioning the norms.” After a series of many such random actions, the hour and 20 minutes comes to its close, and because the play hasn’t completed the plot, the actors sit on the stage and the rest of the story is read out to the audience as if from a novel. As with most of the Slovene productions I saw at this year’s Maribor Theatre Festival, this concerted effort to make avant-garde theatre is, in essence, futile. Ultimately, Frljić’s production is a postmodern hodgepodge created, not in the service of theatre, but rather at the expense of the harmony of text, space and actor.
Conference of the Birds Review by Gergana Stoytcheva (Bulgaria) and Larisa Daugul (Slovenia) The image of the human soul as a bird is always fascinating. We are drawn, ineffably, towards the eternal dream of flying to the sky, but also the fear of the unknown. These are the universal themes in the famous work by the great, 12th-century Persian poet Farid al-Din ‘Attar, in which 30 birds set off under the guidance of the Hoopoe in search of the Simorgh, their
king. They must cross seven valleys in order to achieve the true nature of God. In Jernej Lorenci’s production, chairs, papers and mineral water are arranged at a long table. Nine birds must vote for this journey. The characterisations of these birds reference typical characters in contemporary Slovenia, with language remi3
niscent of political speeches. The birds have difficulty agreeing to set out on their journey of discovery and danger. The play is cleverly staged by director Lorenci and well understood by the cast, especially Branko Jordan (the Hoopoe). Anecdotes, parables and songs are scattered throughout the text, without breaking its rhythm. The piece is intensely funny
in the first half. The second, representing the journey itself, is focused on the profound symbolism of the poem. The personality of the birds is revealed when they take off their costumes. The air becomes heavy with the power of words and gestures. For two hours, one is fascinated by the mystical story and metaphors (although the rapid progression from one scene to another creates some confusion at times).
This production should be savoured, not only for its wonderful, poetic text, but also for the outstanding performances of the actors and the quality of the staging (even if the second half might benefit from being shortened a little). This review has been abridged and translated from an earlier version written in French.
Who is Next? Review by Maria Säkö (Finland) Big questions and big arguments. These ingredients tend to be found in good performances. Sadly, Janez Janša’s Who is Next? (a Slovenian/Austrian/Swedish co-production), fails to deal properly with its heavy issues; which range from individual responsibility, to the precariousness of modern employment, democracy and identity.
The concept of the show contains similarities with the work of such performance companies as Forced Entertainment, She She Pop and Gob Squad. However, this company fails to emulate the work of its seeming role models; whether in the collective devising and performance of the piece, or in the ideas which form the basis for the show. The likes of Forced Entertainment seek to break the rules of theatre in imaginative ways. They have their own distinct ideas and their own humour. They have striven to find the right way to be with the audience, to respect it, and to give it space. Who is Next? achieves none of these objectives. It is very demanding for performers to reveal something about themselves and find a democratic relationship with the audience; only after that is achieved can a production broach heavy themes. Who is Next? is too constrained by its unimaginative, recycled aesthetics to really communicate.
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Who is Next? consists of many elements characteristic of contemporary theatre. Performers try to make the stage a place for questions and strive to provoke the audience through their actions. At the beginning, having taken the audience members’ names as they entered the auditorium, the performers write those names on the floor. They start to tell something about themselves. They show a video in which a very angry girl says that all she really wants to do is kill the people who irritate her. After that follows fragmented choreography, projected pieces of text, and verbalised thoughts about identity, gender and money.
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