BEIRUT: Thursday night witnessed the opening of Lebanon’s first European Theatre Festival, funded by the European Union and hosted by Al Madina Theatre in Hamra. The Festival, which boasts free entry for students, showcases seven plays featuring both Lebanese and European Directors, actors and scriptwriters.
Lebanon will participate alongside six European Union Member States: Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The lineup pays homage to Europe’s tradition of absurdist theatre with The Metamorphosis after Franz Kafka, a retelling of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Voices in the Dark, a French puppet show inspired by the French-Romanian playwright Matéi Visniec’s multitude of grotesque characters numbed by the absurdity of society.
But it attempts not to do so at the expense of the Lebanese theatrical tradition; the Festival will see performances of Not Long ago, a Lebanese musical written and directed by Nidal Al Achkar. Not long ago is an autobiography that relates stories of characters that inhabited Al Achkar’s childhood in her father’s Lebanese village where she grew up.
“These are—to say the least—difficult times that the region is going through,” said Al Achkar, Director and Founder of Al Madina Theatre, in her address to the audience. “However, the need to express ourselves is nonetheless an essential one, perhaps even more than in periods of stability, as it is the very fabric of imagination and expression that conflict threatens to rend”.
The Festival was officially opened by Christina Lassen, the EU Ambassador to Lebanon. “There was been a European Film Festival in Lebanon for 25 years. But the European Theatre Festival in Lebanon is a brand new idea. Tonight is something of a test run; but we hope we can do this every year,” she told Annahar.
The Festival opened with a performance of “My name is Rachel Corrie,” remembering the life of Rachel Corrie, an American activist who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer while protesting the demolition of homes in Gaza. “This British piece highlights the political pawning of people and misrepresentation of East and West,” said Rachel Valentine Smith, Director and Choreographer.
She then added that “the material has been formed into a one-woman show. We follow Rachel’s journey from a young woman figuring out her place in the world in Olympia, and finding a need to go to Palestine. Her life is taken on March 16, three months after she arrived by an Israeli bulldozer.”
The stage is curiously sparse. There are no walls, only objects hanging on transparent wire. It may have been intended to emphasize the absence of boundaries, in Rachel Corrie’s mind, when it comes to the suffering of other people; but in reality, Rachel (played by Clare Latham) appears small and vulnerable, only managing to fill the large space in her most forthright moments.
The play may succeed, in fact, in accomplishing something unintended by Rachel Valentine Smith and Mark Leipeker, Artistic Director.
By her relentless and at times adolescent whining, Clare Latham draws attention to the naivety of international activism and how easily the international focus can be drawn to the death of a single Westerner, whilst hundreds of Palestinians are killed by the Israeli Government without international attention.
Plays will continue to be shown at Al Madina theatre in Hamra until October 30.
The EU and Al Madina celebrated the first European Theatre Festival in Lebanon by cutting a cake featuring the flags of the participating countries.
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