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Europa – The STUDIO, Birmingham REP

Writers: Lutz Hübner, Sikorska-Miszczuk, Tena Štivičić and Steve Waters

Director: Janusz Kica

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

[rating:3]

Europa_BirminghamRepEuropa is the end result of two years’ collaboration between four leading European theatres (Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Teatr Polski Bydgoszcz (Poland), Staatsschauspiel Dresden (Germany) and Zagreb Youth Theatre (Croatia) and four leading playwrights, each a leading writer in his/her own language. It seeks to be a snapshot of Europe today. The preparation included each company setting up websites to gather responses to key questions about Europe and our place in it; and workshops in each of the countries where the writers discussed and explored issues with local groups, a group of older residents in Poland, an Asian women’s group in Birmingham, an established community project in Dresden and members of the Zagreb Youth Theatre in Croatia. This process generated vast amounts of material, which has been condensed into one hour and forty minutes of challenge. This was the British premiere of the play, featuring as it does two actors from each of the countries, and having already been seen at in Poland, Dresden and Zagreb.

It is clear this is to be no run of the mill production on entering the REP’s new shared studio space. The set is stark: white and minimalist. In one corner, there appears to be a pile of firm cushions. A watercooler and door complete the set. A projection screen hangs above – it’s here that the surtitles are projected when the language in use is not English. As the evening wears on, these plain white walls are decorated by the cast with imagery from Europe, some painted, some pasted onto the walls. Throughout the play, video images play on the screen, although one eventually realises something is out of kilter there.

The production itself flits between scenarios and stories, so we meet the members of a confused arts funding panel in Brussels whose main purpose seems to be to ensure the budget is spent and hence maintained (a Never Mind the Quality, feel the Width mentality); a young couple treated hideously when suspected of being terrorists; a woman seeking to find her identity through genotyping (initially to justify cosmetic surgery, but ultimately to discover her heritage, which mainly suggests that she, like most Europeans, is not pure bred but a mongrel); a nearly man in Berlin who nearly saw the wall implemented and later nearly saw it come down; and a couple trying to eke out a living keeping a café. Much is performed in the actors’ home languages supported by the surtitles. However, there is occasionally so much happening so quickly that one literally doesn’t know where to look for fear of missing something significant. The play is awash with imagery that is not always clear and can leave one slightly perplexed.

One thread that carries through the whole play is the appearance of a strange woman seeking entry to the European Union. She does not speak the language of the country, but it gradually becomes clear that she has come from ancient Phoenicia, crossing the sea astride a bull. She is, of course, Europa of Greek myth for whom Europe is named; the bull is Zeus. Her name came to be construed as meaning “open minded”, and the audience watching this need to be the same. The show can be confusing with some of its imagery and the lack of a consistent narrative thread. It does neatly avoid any descent into stodgy worthiness: there is an unmistakeable lightness of touch in Janusz Kica’s direction, with plenty of humour, much of it physical and transcending nationality and language. The actors’ commitment is clear as they perform as a collective, providing an implicit model for the whole continent. Each has an opportunity to shine, which they do.

So a challenging evening’s entertainment; thought provoking, occasionally confusing but ultimately worth getting to grips with.

Runs until 19 October

 

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