Alex Mullarky examines the UK’s most unusual theatre festival
The London International Festival of Theatre (otherwise known as LIFT) has been running biennially since 1981. Describing its motive as ‘shining a light on the stories of the world’, LIFT is not your average middle-aged middle-class theatre festival. Instead, LIFT brings to the UK theatre from all around the world, featuring this year everything from an unabridged American production of The Great Gatsby (Gatz) to a Tunisian Macbeth based on real historical events (see my review from the first issue).
This year LIFT coincided with the World Shakespeare Festival, which sought to bring productions of Shakespeare plays to the British stage in every language and with many and varied interpretations. The notion of performing Shakespeare in another language seems faintly odd – beautiful word choices in Shakespeare’s English won’t necessarily translate easily into other languages – and the idea of inviting other companies to perform the plays of an English playwright, rather than one of their own native writers, whiffs of cultural imperialism.
This serves, really, to highlight LIFT’s success. Though working in tandem with WSF on a couple of their commissions, overall LIFT’s productions were striking in their originality and their fearlessness. Belarus Free Theatre, a company that emerged ‘in Europe’s last surviving dictatorship’, brought Minsk 2011, a revolutionary piece which openly criticises the loss of a way of life in the country. Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour’s highly acclaimed White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, saw a different performer every night – ranging from Tamsin Greig to Arthur Darvill – reading, without preparation, a piece of fascinating theatre. Soleimanpour himself was unable to attend the performances, confined to his country as a punishment for failing to sign up for national service. Another piece, Hamid Pourazari’s Unfinished Dream, saw audience members blindfolded and led to a Croydon car park where a multi-faceted performance was played out before their eyes.
Not only did LIFT bring great theatre to London’s stages; it also held forums whereby the nature of theatre, and its power, was examined. On their website, LIFT claim to be ‘actively engaged in working in partnership with European artists and producers to commission and produce theatre and performance that responds to the most urgent issue of our time: climate change’. The festival authorities issue a sustainability policy to all of their participants, encouraging them to think of the environment with regards to the transport, waste and energy needs of their production. A series of talks and seminars also took place whereby the possibility of theatrical collaboration between nations and across continents was openly discussed.
These events were incorporated into the schedule of the festival as a whole, meaning that the performances and the examination of theatre itself were on a level of equal importance. LIFT, in conclusion, is a revolutionary festival, committed to global communion about theatre, a sustainable future for the arts, and thought-provoking entertainment. This is the kind of thing we need to see more of in the UK, where theatre feels increasingly inward-facing. Long live LIFT.
Image credit: Kean Lanyon