(Arifa Akhar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/39; Photo: ‘Beautiful moments of physical theatre’ … Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead at the Barbican, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner.)
Barbican, London Simon McBurney directs a toweringly innovative adaptation of the eco-thriller by Nobel-winner Olga Tokarczuk
The opening night of this Complicité production was aborted at the 11th hour last week when its star, Kathryn Hunter, took ill. As the actor Amanda Hadingue walks on to a bare stage, house lights still on, and begins to speak about coughs and Covid, it seems to be leading to another postponement.
Complicité fans may recognise this unassuming start as a signature move, however, and know not to be fooled. From the simplicity of a single actor at a mic, this show directed by Simon McBurney grows like its own verdant forest. It becomes an almighty and toweringly innovative adaptation of Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s murder mystery eco-noir novel, written in wry, profound and glittering prose.
With the help of an autocue (entirely excusable given the gargantuan burden of narration), Hadingue plays Janina, a beady-eyed, chronically sick animal lover living in a remote Polish village rocked by a series of inexplicable murders. The dead are all from the hunting club and Janina volubly espouses the theory that woodland animals are getting their revenge.
Her friends – Dizzy (Alexander Uzoka), a former student; Boros (Johannes Flaschberger), an entomologist; and Oddball (César Sarachu), a neighbour – are all outsiders and non-conformists. Janina is a fabulous creation, both hero and antihero. She is a thorn in the side of the authorities, shooting off messages to the police and quoting government laws at the council – a Miss Marple, lady of letters and Fargo’s Marge Gunderson in one. Hadingue inhabits her so fully that we feel her grief over the death of her dogs – “my girls” – as an epic tragedy. Though Janina is, on the face of it, an animal rights activist, the core of this drama is about the condition of being human: how we live and age, our burdens, privileges and abuses.
Theatrically, this is a masterclass in how to fill a big stage, in part through sound (Christopher Shutt) and lighting (Paule Constable). The set by Rae Smith emerges organically until it seems there are forests behind and constellations above, much of it created through Dick Straker’s astonishing video design.
Scenes flare up out of darkness, with no visible setting up or dismantling. Present and past zoom back and forth so smoothly that it looks entirely seamless. The back-screen is used to brilliant effect, Janina’s projected nightmares of her dead mother appearing almost Hitchcockian.
Metatheatricality – nothing over-excitable – brings humorous flourishes: “May I borrow your microphone?” says Boros, who proceeds to tell us his backstory. “Will you turn that fucking music off?” shouts Janina as a stage instruction.
Exiled from their homeland, the performers of Belarus Free Theatre deliver an urgent warning against complacency in the face of rising authoritarianism.
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
“Intellectual disgrace stares from every human face,” wrote WH Auden in his 1939 poem In Memory of WB Yeats; its “dogs of Europe” left barking in a nightmare world where poetry no longer unites nations.
In 2019, Belarusian author Alhierd Bacharevič drew upon this canine lament for the title of his sprawling, award-winning novel, which has been brilliantly adapted for the stage by Belarus Free Theatre. Both the book and the troupe have since been banned by the authoritarian government in Minsk, with most of the performers now residing in Poland.
The fabric of Bacharevič’s magnum opus comprises several interwoven storylines, but BFT’s co-directors Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada have largely focused on the stories of the young Belarusian Mauchun and a German investigator Teresius Skima, both played by Pavel Haradnitski.
Beginning in 2019, a teacher instructs his class to bury a time capsule. The play then fast-forwards to 2049 and a Europe once again divided. We learn that Russia has invaded Ukraine and, after a brief nuclear war, established the New Reich. This includes much of the former Soviet Union, including the Baltic states. The remaining countries fall under the European League, and the two blocs are physically separated by the latest iteration of the Iron Curtain, now called the Great Wall.
Not that the New Reich and the European League are all that dissimilar. This is a world in which a literary upbringing is a thing of the past, and the literate middle-class has been erased. Depending on which side of the wall you find yourself, books are either burned or simply rendered obsolete by the digital age.
In their place, an alcohol-infused, hyper-sexualised world is split between Russian traditionalism and a more inclusive, ‘Westernised’ hedonism. It’s very much a case of ‘same, same, but different’, and like dogs, the inhabitants on both sides are only too happy to urinate on the place they call home.
If the two blocs differ at all, it is in the New Reich’s rudimentary medical care and education system, which exists solely to breed mistrust, informants and spies. The setting of the first act is the fictional Belarusian border town of White Dews – a nightmarish Pieter Bruegel painting come to life, with people too drunk to recognise how disadvantaged they are.
The play takes place in 2049, but for those familiar with the remnants of the former Soviet Union, this is no dystopia. Barely 25 years after the fall of Communism, industrial towns like White Dews can still be found frozen in time, their Soviet infrastructure rusted, decaying and desperately in need of a capital injection that will never come.
Translated and Directed by Vít Hořejš Performed by Vít Hořejš & Theresa Linnihan Production design: Alan Barnes Netherton Marionettes: Milos Kasal, Jakub”Kuba” Krejci, Theresa Linnihan Costumes, Vaněk and Brewmaster puppets: Theresa Linnihan Pre-show video: Suzanna Halsey Producer of GOH: Bonnie Sue Stein/GOH Productions Presented by: La MaMa in association with GOH Productions and Vaclav Havel Library Foundation
Václav Havel’s conceptualization of a self-informing citizen and employee, set during Czechoslovakia’s communist era, loses its absurdly comic and ironic sting in Audience, now playing at La MaMa through February 19. The reason has nothing to do with the quality of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette’s puppet version, directed by Vít Horejš (puppetry is a practiced art form in Central and Eastern Europe), where Theresa Linnihan locates the desperation of a coarse, destructing Brewmaster with the intensity of exposing an O’Neill character (and the show includes a growing puppet; marionettes by Milos Kasal and Jakub “Kuba” Krejci; surveillance cameras; and an important historical overview on Havel and the fall of Czech authoritarianism, by Suzanne Halsey, which goes by too fast). Instead, the issue lies with American culture’s acceptance of privacy incursions, whether from, among others, TikTok, the NSA, computer hackers, the IRS, Facebook tracking devices, and Chinese spy balloons (which the government recently seemed conflicted about shooting down, like wavering about giving out a phone number).
Havel (1936-2011) was known for never being much good at giving an interview, as the president of the Czech Republic and statesman (he went from being jailed to Kafka’s castle in Prague), much less as a playwright, dissident, and prisoner. Apparently, he could not look into the eyes of investigators or T.V. hosts, for fear of giving himself away and being punished. A second-nature revulsion to self-disclosure might even be a reason why his Vaněk character (the role is thought to be a reflection of the author, which Havel denied), in the three one-acts in which he appears, remains a passive construction. Certainly, in Audience, the Brewmaster is more a full profile than a dramatic character in conflict with an evenly matched opponent (Havel, apparently, sees his creation as the “audience” for his boss, not as an adversary). Vít Horejš, as Vaněk, offers a generous, comedic performance for a largely mild, passive role and, with his associates in the production, he meets the complex demands of the tightly choreographed dance of puppetry—an under-rated technically challenging craft, on top of the acting involved. Horejš’s translation offers a harsher, perhaps more dramatically right, ending than has been seen before (Vaněk, typically, tries to sneak out of the office without being heard). Unlike many modern American theatremakers, and others around the world—Havel, apparently, learned not to reveal himself in his art–that may help to explain pauses in his texts, which the author hoped would cause audiences to think about why they are there; other “freer” dramatists might have taken the opportunity to fill out the roles autobiographically.
Written in 1975, Audience (sometimes translated as Interview) is set in a Czech brewery boss’s office—an arena which Havel knew about first-hand. He was forced to be re-educated—to disregard his bourgeois background and presumptions and learn how to put in “a real day’s work.” Some might see his “dumbing down,” for the common good, as relevant to privacy issues in the U.S. now. Even in the Covid age, how often is one asked to meet for a beer with those in the office, or after a Zoom meeting, provide gossip on other employees, deal with an office snitch, bully, or self-appointed rule enforcer, or give a self-evaluation?
Yet security cameras in public spaces for protection, such as in subway stations, may fail in New York City and the United States Supreme Court finds itself unable to pinpoint a 2022 leaker, regarding an abortion draft, from a limited number of potential suspects. Some could question how the general population is benefiting by accepting its own deep scrutiny–through so many offices and algorithms, which, basically want to pinpoint taxpayer mishandling or assert control–and to what extent someone should have the privilege of knowing someone else’s personal information (without reciprocal transparent terms). At the same time, hiring managers may question the need for a college education, where critical thinking can be learned. The future is uncertain as to whether AI will carve out white-collar jobs, in any case.
Which brings theatregoers back to Havel, Kafka, and bureaucracy: Personal data can be extracted so automatically and benignly, and the fear of interrogation, the way Havel had come to know it, through breaches in human rights (Havel maintained he was not tortured), is largely dismissed.
Audience is a play about a terrifying reality, that has already happened here and is becoming more and more noticeable—and will swell more.
PERFORMANCES September 21 – October 9, 2022 Wed – Sat at 7:30 PM Sun at 2:00 PM Additional show on Tues Sept 27 at 7:30 PMMABOU MINES 150 First Ave. Second Floor, NYC 10009
TICKETS $25 | NOW ON SALEPLEASE NOTE: Mabou Mines requires masks, a proof of a complete COVID-19 vaccination, and a valid ID to enter the building and attend performances.
Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival, present a celebration of legendary playwright and director María Irene Fornés, featuring Philip Glass’ transformation of her five-page play Drowning into an opera and Fornés’ acclaimed play, Mud. This exciting double-bill marks the show’s triumphant return after a sold-out run at Mabou Mines in 2020, where its New York premiere was called “a notable new work” and designated a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times.
JoAnne Akalaitis directs these two intimate productions (both with new music composed by Glass), which offer New York audiences an opportunity to experience the work of a singular writer at close range. Akalaitis explains, “The program is intended to express that world of Irene’s, which is about the terribly poignant and unfulfilled longing for some kind of emotional accomplishment in life that often gets dashed—that’s what both of these pieces are about. We hope this evening offers a glimpse into the range of Irene’s rich theatrical landscape and the heart of an artist who never soothes and continues to astonish.”
Documentary Film Screening from director Michelle Memran
THE REST I MAKE UP
A Film About María Irene Fornés And Her Unexpected Friendship With Filmmaker Michelle Memran.
Monday, October 3, 2022 at 7:30 PM | Mabou Mines Theater
Don’t miss Mabou Mines’ companion event to Mud/Drowning: a free screening of The Rest I Make Up, the 2018 documentary about María Irene Fornés and her unexpected friendship with filmmaker Michelle Memran. The screening will be followed by a talkback with Memran.
SUPPORT FOR MABOU MINES is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council and Materials for the Arts, The NYC Women’s Fund by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment/The New York Foundation for the Arts, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Howard Gilman Foundation JKW Foundation, The NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust, Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust, Shubert Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the W Trust.ation, the W Trust and Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust.
(Chris Wiegand, 5/31, the Guardian; Photo: of Neda Nezhdana, Litgazeta.com.ua)
Neda Nezhdana’s urgent exploration of war is a collaboration with the Theatre of Playwrights in Kyiv. Otvetka had its premiere in Ukraine weeks after Russia invaded. Kate Vostrikova performs the tale of a pregnant woman in a study of war’s psychological impact.
Presented by Popdipingdi Productions in association with the Finborough and available on YouTube. (Read more)
Under star and director David Serero, the French musical The Ten Commandments, finally in English–based on the biblical story of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his true brethren, the enslaved Hebrews, by leading their Exodus–will open Off-Broadway, MAY 5TH (3PM), 8TH (6PM – PREMIERE), 10TH AND 12TH (8PM), AND THE 15TH (6PM). Along with Serero, as Moses, the cast of twelve includes theatre and operatic talents, including: DaShaun Williams (Ramses), Stephanie Craven (Sephora), Brooke Myers (Jochebed), Lisa Monde (Bithia), Cale Rausch (Joshua), Zachary Harris Martin (Aaron), Kristyn Vario (Myriam), Shane Patrick Watson and Julia Anne Cohen (Various roles and U/S).
WHERE: This limited engagement will be performed at the Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th Street, New York NY 10011)
Serero is a critically acclaimed, award-winning opera singer, actor, director, and producer, who has performed more than 2,500 performances in more than 45 countries. He has directed and produced nearly 100 theatrical productions, starred in over 100 films and T.V. series, recorded and produced over 100 albums, and played more than 50 leads and title roles (in several languages) from opera, theatre, and musical repertoire. In New York, he starred Off-Broadway in iconic roles such as Shylock, Cyrano, Othello, Barabas, Yiddish King Lear, Don Giovanni, Figaro, Romeo, Nabucco, as well as in new works such as Napoleon by Kubrick, Queen Esther, and Anne Frank a Musical, among others. In his native Paris, he also starred as Don Quixote (Man of La Mancha) and Happy Mac (Beggar’s Holiday by Duke Ellington). He entered the prestigious Who’s Who America for demonstrating outstanding achievements in the entertainment world and for the betterment of contemporary society. In 2019, he received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award, the Morocco Day Distinguished Achievement Award, the Trophy of the Culture of Morocco, and was named among the fifteen most influential Moroccans worldwide by Morocco’s airline Royal Air Maroc.
David is a member of the Recording Academy and the Television Academy and a voting member of both the Grammys and Emmys. In 2020, David Serero received the UNESCO Award for Diversity in Paris and became an Honorary Member of the United Nations of Arts and Science. In 2021, he won 4 Broadway World Awards for Best Performer of the decade, Best Producer of a Musical of the decade, Best Producer of a Play of the decade, Best Opera singer of the Year. He was awarded the Certificate of Recognition by the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, for his contribution to the City’s dynamic cultural landscape, enriching the vibrant performing arts sector, and uplifted and inspired diverse New Yorkers. His first documentary film on fashion designer Elie Tahari won dozens of awards (including Best Director, Best Documentary, Best Producer) and received over 100 film festivals selections. www.davidserero.com
France’s The Ten Commandments, (Les Dix Commandements) announces its upcoming U.S premiere—and releases its first single in English. Almost 20 years after its opening, “The Ten Commandments” is coming to America and will be presented in English–below, listen to the first single from the Cast Album, created by the filmmaker Elie Chouraqui, with music by Pascal Obispo and lyrics by Lionel Florence and Patrice Guirao. The show has already played to over 3 million spectators in Europe alone.
The revival recording and stage adaptation are the ideas of star baritone (playing Moses) and producer David Serero, who wrote the English language adaptation for American theatrical productions. The first single from the upcoming Cast Album Recording, titled “The Maximum Pain (La Peine Maximum),” has been released on all platforms. The first series of Off-Broadway performances will take place in May 2022 in New York. Tickets and additional information will soon be available.
First presented in October 2000, the musical was an instant hit, equaling in success another famous French musical: Notre Dame de Paris. The musical carried such radio hits as “L’envie d’aimer,” performed by Daniel Levi. The shows original stars included Yael Naim, Ahmed Mouici, and more. Sonia Rykiel designed the original costumes, and Kamel Ouali created the choreography. Serero explains “I have carried this masterpiece in my heart since its first day of creation. This unique collaboration between two masters, Elie Chouraqui and Pascal Obispo, will forever remain in the history of French musicals. The original French lyrics were by Lionel Florence and Patrice Guirao.”
Creator, Elie Chouraqui, comments: “I am thrilled and honored that my show, “Les Dix Commandements” (The Ten Commandments) with the gorgeous music by Pascal Obispo, has finally been adapted for New York, the capital of musicals. After playing it in France, Europe, and Asia, America is a lifetime achievement. I must thank David Serero for his enthusiasm, strength, and unquenchable desire to bring this musical to Broadway.”
Elie Chouraqui is a French filmmaker born in 1950. Among others, he is known for the filmsÔ Jerusalem, Harrison’s Flower, starring Andie MacDowell, Adrien Brody, Gerard Butler, and Brendan Gleeson; Man on Firewith Joe Pesci, Scott Glenn, and Jonathan Price. And several French film classics starring iconic French actors, such as Jean-Hughes Anglade, Christophe Lambert, Richard Anconina, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and many more.
Pascal Obispo is one of the most successful singer/songwriters in the genre of French pop, who released numerous commercial blockbuster albums, scored Top Ten hit singles with regularity, embarked on multiple sold-out concert tours, wrote songs for a musical of his own creation, and collaborated with a long list of French pop stars. The lead single of The Ten Commandments, “L’envie d’aimer,” was also recorded in English by Celine Dion.
“The Maximum Pain” is performed by Lawrence Neals, with background vocals by Lisa Monde, Mackenzie Tank, and Kristyn Vario. English adaptation and production are by David Serero. The music is composed by Pascal Obispo, and the original French lyrics are written by Lionel Florence and Patrice Guirao.
After recording Sorry, Wrong Number, some of the company sat down with the RTÉ Drama On One team to chat about the play as well the history of Druid and their careers to date in a segment called In the Wings.
Listen to director Garry Hynes and actors Brian Doherty, Seán McGinley and Marie Mullen on the RTÉ Drama On One website.
You can also listen to In the Wings on the RTÉ Drama On One podcast by searching ‘Drama On One’ on your podcast app.
Two contrasting pieces of narration set to music. The BBC Singers and conductor Nicolas Chalmers present Hymn – Alan Bennett’s early musical recollections, originally set to music written for string quartet by George Fenton. Hymn has been arranged for the BBC Singers by Clare Wheeler, with additional material by Jonathan Manners and Paul Spicer. The BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor David Hill then perform Richard Allain’s musical setting of A Christmas Carol with narration by Stephen Fry. Alan Bennett/George Fenton: Hymn (arr. Clare Wheeler) BBC Singers Alan Bennett – narrator Nicholas Chalmers – conductor Richard Allain: A Christmas Carol BBC Concert Orchestra Stephen Fry – narrator David Hill – conductor
MABOU MINES/BECKETT: ‘IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE’–DIRECTED BY RUTH MALECZECH (12/21-12/17)
Ruth Nelson (Voice) & Clove Galilee (Figure) __________________________________
Light, voice, hologram and music play against one another in undulating patterns. Beckett himself could have been describing the eerie effect of Miss Maleczech’s stage piece when he wrote in his text about the striking contrast between the ”absolute stillness and the convulsive light.” ‘Imagination Dead Imagine’ lasts only 14 minutes, but it is a paradigmatic example of the MabouMines mastery of technology in the name of art.
Just like any other clowns, they wore funny clothes, had painted faces and behaved in a silly way. Funny enough, in the Soviet Union, circus clowns probably played more important roles than silver screen stars. They helped those behind the Iron Curtain cope with mundane matters, proving the age old adage that laughter is always the best medicine.
1. Mikhail Rumyantsev (1901-1983)
Mikhail Rumyanyntsev was much inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s famous character, the Tramp.
Mikhail never cried over bad grades at school – he was born with a gift of laughter. At the beginning of his career in the late 1920s, Rumyantsev was profoundly moved and inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s famous character, the Tramp. Like Chaplin, Rumyantsev, whose stage name was Karandash (“The Pencil”), was also fairly clumsy, awkward and funny, and constantly found himself in embarrassing situations.
There was something innately comical and sad about him. He would turn up on stage dressed in an oversized suit and a hat. Despite being very short, just 142 cm tall (that’s less than five feet) he never worried about his looks (his wife was tall, beautiful and twenty years younger than him). The way he carried himself left no chance for an inferiority complex.
Rumyantsev’s partner in crime on stage was a Scottish Terrier nicknamed ‘The Blot’. During his long career, Karandash had performed with at least 13 Scotties.
Rumyantsev’s partner in crime on stage was a Scottish Terrier.
Rumyantsev actually became a clown quite by chance. In 1926, America’s sweetheart of silent cinema Mary Pickford and one of Hollywood’s founding fathers, Douglas Fairbanks, paid a visit to the Soviet Union. Rumyantsev saw the pair and decided to become an artist. He chose his stage name in 1935, to pay tribute to the 19th century French satirist Caran D’ache (whose pseudonym, in its turn, was a creative French transcription of karandash (карандаш), the Russian word for ‘pencil’).
The Soviet artist worked in the circus for over 55 years and his name on the billboard was invariably the guarantee of a sold-out show. However, Karandash didn’t like posters with his name. His peers said he was too modest to brag about success. On stage, he was just an ordinary bloke, good-natured, witty, cheerful, full of childlike spontaneity and charm.
His performances crossed genres, boasting stunts in acrobatics and gymnastics. Karandash became the first Soviet clown whose popularity transcended the geographical barriers of that time. In his best years, he had an army of fans in Finland, France, UK, Germany, Italy, Brazil and Uruguay.
For Russia’s most famous clown, hope and laughter are like Siamese twins, bound together at some physical level. A sense of humor once helped Slava get through the turbulent times. Which is why Slava brings laughter wherever he goes.
Polunin’s signature clown character ‘Assissai’ became the epitome of comic relief.
One of the founders of the Litsedei pantomime theater in St. Petersburg, Polunin is a master of tragi-comedy. His yellow clown character ‘Assissai’ became the epitome of comic relief.
Polunin made headlines shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. He organized the so-called ‘Peace Caravan’, in which mimes and clowns from across the globe got together to give street performances in Europe.
His major tour de force – ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ – has been staged in more than 80 countries worldwide, praised for warmth and wit, wisdom and sadness. Veering between laughter and tears, it was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and won dozens of theatrical awards, including the coveted Laurence Olivier award in 1998.
His major tour de force – ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ – has been staged in more than 80 countries worldwide.
Polunin’s signature theatrical performances are like this: you laugh to keep from crying. Slava blends freedom with anarchy as naturally as a knowledgeable bartender mixes tomato juice with vodka. Polunin did himself a big favor when he allowed himself to be not only the clown, but also the artist and the thinker.