Writers and Directors: Various
With theatres in Britain tentatively re-opening on 17 May, now seems the perfect time to discover how other theatres around Europe are responding to the pandemic. From 18 countries, 22 theatres belonging to the European Theatre Convention have created short films discussing what the return to theatre could be like. Will theatre return to ‘normal’ or have the lockdowns and theatre closures provided a new energy to one of the oldest art forms? Will there be a renaissance or will it business as usual?
Of course, 2020 was not the first time theatres had closed down in Britain; under Cromwell, theatres were closed for 18 years, not reopening until 1660. Playwrights reacted to the return of the monarchy with dramas that were both droll and lewd, such as The Country Wife by William Wycherley and The Man of Mode by George Etherege, plays that we now call Restoration Comedies. It was also the first time that women trod the boards. Will we witness such radical changes come May, or is theatre now just a money-making business controlled by social media?
These kinds of questions are asked by Dresden’s Staatsschauspiel offering to The Renaissance Project. Written by Jörg Bochow, two actors, one optimistic and one pessimistic, argue about the theatre’s future. For those who don’t like the theatre, the shouting and gurning of Henriette Hölzel and Jannik Hinsch may put them off for life, but the conversation is the draw here, asking pointedly if performance will really change for the better after Covid. Hinsch proclaims that we should see the pandemic as the midwife of creation. It’s an outcome to strive for, but hopefully a little less shouty than this film.
Prague’s National Theatre takes a more artistic approach and its film is like something that would be performed on the Barbican stage, with surtitles. A young man creeps around a building littered with modern art, and yet, without theatre, he feels like Jesus meditating in the desert. From his office desk, actor and director Daniel Špinar, suddenly finds himself plunged into the world of theatre, crawling across stage scenery, coming across props that must have been in the theatre’s collection and journeying through genres. It’s beautifully shot and serves as a good reminder – an advert even – for European theatre.
In comparison, Slovakia’s National Drama’s contribution feels rather simple, but there is a likeable honesty to the interviews with the theatre’s creatives, all looking forward to the return of live shows. They trust that audiences will feel safe enough to return; that theatre-going is a habit that 18 months away is not long enough to break. However, the white noise and distortion that play over some of the images of dramas being performed suggest that the future isn’t certain.
The first of these films will be released on 10 May, with a new film being released each day for the next 21 days, and all are free to watch. They offer a glimpse into what theatre may look like, but its future is all of our hands.
Runs here from 9 May to 4 June 2021