There’s no doubt that London is a multicultural city. Walking its network of interconnected streets you’re hit with a myriad of scents, the essence of culinary pickings from around the globe mingling to create the substance of this great capital. The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) celebrates this multiculturalism by opening up London to world wide theatrical experiences; nations, cultures and theatre-making practices collide in a festival that proves the slipperiness of the term ‘border’ and probes at our cultural heritage.
LIFT presents a programme of work from New York, Belarus, Iran, Romania, Tunisia, Germany, Australia, the UK… the list goes on. It offers work that pushes boundaries both geographically and theatrically, and that celebrates the power of theatre and the joys of being culturally curious. Whilst bringing the world to London, however, it is also a festival that stands out – in the words of Artistic Director Mark Ball – for being about “London for Londoners”.
There are three factors that influence programming decisions and one of these is including work that is site specific, using London as a stage in such a way as to make the city be seen differently. Requardt & Rosenberg’s spectacular Motor Show takes place in “an acre of forgotten land” by the North Greenwich landmark that is the O2 Arena. Iran based Hamid Pourazari’s Unfinished Dream uses a car park in Croydon as its stage, and Look Left Look Right use the hidden alleyways of Camden for their one-on-one performance of You Once Said Yes. In just these three examples the diversity of the festival is highly evident; a motoring/dance theatre spectacular, a promenade performance telling the stories of local refugees and an intimate adventure through the streets of Camden.
Taking routes trodden everyday, locations seen routinely and transforming the way they are seen – and even used – takes audience members out of themselves and their habitual ways of seeing. London is shown in a new light, forcing audiences to consider the makeup of their home city and this notion is played with in extremes in Germany’s Rimini Protokoll’s 100% London. Cast from 100 everyday Londoners selected based on specific criteria drawn from demographic data the production pits views from ‘experts in daily life’ against this 1% of London’s population. The result is a questioning of official reality and an exploration of the human truth behind this city.
Truth plays a vital role in a lot of the work on offer at LIFT, particularly that selected based on the factor of being from parts of the world where changes are happening. Belarus Free Theatre are an excellent example coming from a place where “theatre is vital to their existence”, not because it’s celebrated and enjoyed but because it is an absolutely necessary means through which to vocalise certain truths. Belarus Free Theatre are banned in their own country, they suffer death threats, perform in secret and still carry on because they believe – as does Ball – that “theatre can be a catalyst to inform and change public opinion”.
In such work can be seen a stronger political side to LIFT, bringing work from countries where the theatre is imbued with “bite and urgency” and reminding us that we often “forget our privileged position”. Such urgent work as Belarus Free Theatre’s Minsk 2011 with such vital messages to utter can lead to a questioning of the work made here in our privileged country. But LIFT also presents work from emerging, and leading, UK based experimental theatre-makers such as Forced Entertainment and dreamthinkspeak. In programming the two together Ball aims to show there are “intrinsic links” between breaking theatrical and geographical boundaries.
Interestingly LIFT features a number of Shakespearian productions, alongside dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest is Silence there’s an Iraqi Romeo and Juliet and a Tunisian take on Macbeth entitled Macbeth: Leila and Ben. Discussing this latter production and such use of Shakespeare Ball simple remarks how “the man was a genius”; his work is universal and it does relate to contemporary life and problems. Macbeth: Leila and Ben presents a “direct comparison between Macbeth and the Arabic dictator”, it creatively blends Shakespeare with verbatim interviews using this pinnacle of British theatre to understand the unstable world around them. Using Shakespeare in this way not only gives these individuals a theatrical voice through which to speak, but revitalises traditional British theatre.
In complete contrast to this is Romanian documentary piece 20/20 telling a “historically specific story which barely got any attention” at the time of it happening. The story is that of the ethnic conflict on the Hungary-Romania border in the 1990s. Ball feels it is relevant now due to the enormous changes currently happening in Europe, and the way this story tells us how it “doesn’t take much for things to go horribly wrong”.
LIFT may present a diverse range of productions but all of them have the common element of commenting upon- altering – the world in which we live. Be that our own personal worlds or a larger society. The programme embraces spectacle, theatre as a means for political expression and theatre as storytelling to be enjoyed. Definitions of theatre’s purpose that many of us struggle to choose between, but perhaps that is within the remit of festival to celebrate. When asked what feeling he wants the festival to exude, what experience he wants its audiences to have Ball proclaims the “wild energy” driving this “intense four week period where you can really immerse yourself in the experiences of people from around the world”. He cites intense excitement, a feeling of everything being magnified and of fun.
Presenting theatre in a myriad of forms LIFT demonstrates the immense possibility of theatre and a new truth behind “all the world’s a stage”. It’s a festival one can only see growing and taking over the city of London.
The festival continues until 15th July. For more information and details about shows, visit www.liftfestival.com.
Image credit: Gatz by Elevator Repair Service