NOTTINGHAM NEAT AND UNTIDY To 12 June.

It’s taken a decade to bring it together, but this year Nottingham sees an international theatre programme such as London, Edinburgh or Dublin may feel itself familiar with, but which, outside capital cities, is a great rarity. They’re calling it NEAT 11 – Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival 2011 – and it’s happening around the city, though focused on, and coordinated by Nottingham Playhouse, whose Artistic Director Giles Croft is the creative origin of the huge, untidy and exciting cultural present to the city and its visitors.
It’s taken a decade to bring it together, but this year Nottingham sees an international theatre programme such as London, Edinburgh or Dublin may feel itself familiar with, but which, outside capital cities, is a great rarity. They’re calling it NEAT 11 – Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival 2011 – and it’s happening around the city, though focused on, and coordinated by Nottingham Playhouse, whose Artistic Director Giles Croft is the creative origin of the huge, untidy and exciting cultural present to the city and its visitors.

Everything’s come about, says Croft, through the Playhouse’s involvement with ETC – the European Theatre Convention. This (etc.cte.org) gathers under one brolly theatre professionals, and particularly young theatre-makers, and encourages the reaching-out of theatre to new audiences, while exploring Europe’s diversity of languages.

So expect to have heard a lot of different languages spoken during this year’s ETC General Assembly in Nottingham over the Bank Holiday weekend. But also on stages up to 12 June – each of the three weekends sees a European production playing in Nottingham.

EURO COLLECTION

Following a zipalong Norwegian adaptation of a German romantic novel, as Det Norske Teatret sweep into the University-based but public Lakeside Arts Centre with Goethe’s Sufferings of Young Werther, German theatre takes up the mantle as Deutsches Theater Berlin move into the Playhouse with a version by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s of Büchner’s abrasive, fragmentary story of a soldier-loser Woyzeck (Playhouse 3-4 June 7.30pm).

And the third week’s crowned with Poland’s Teatr Nowy (Playhouse, 9-11 June 7.30pm) in another German classic, making a one-act play out of Goethe’s massive Faust. But these three visitors are surrounded by a range of other events, the largest being a special visit to the nearby Theatre Royal of Declan Donnellan’s Three Sisters from Chekhov International Festival – “an unmissable production” I called it on 2007 at the Barbican – see the Archive (8-12 June 7.45pm, Saturday also at 2.30pm).

Even companies that can’t make it themselves get a look-in. New Art Exchange sees the screening of the documentary Arna’s Children, detailing Freedom Theatre’s work among children in the occupied Palestinian territory (9 June 8pm). Continuing the Palestinian, and youth, themes the Playhouse and New Art Exchange’s Youth Theatres will perform the 45-minute Gaza Mono-logues, a project originated by Palestine’s Ashtar Theatre (11 June 5pm and 7.30pm at New Art Exchange), while a wider world than Europe comes together in The Crossing, mixing African, Caribbean and European participants in a company aptly or ironically called Tangle.

Euro-links are being reflected in performances at Nottingham Contemporary art gallery from two companies which have split their homes between the city and Berlin (Gobsquad’s Kitchen on 29-30 May), or Ghent (Reckless Sleepers, with their hour-long The Last Supper 4-5 June 2pm and 8pm).

FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

There’s a major European element this year in ‘Wheee!’ – Lakeside’s children’s theatre festival, including Nats Nus Dansa from Catalonia with Maps, a 50-minute piece for 5+ 31 May 3pm and, reflecting Denmark’s strong children’s theatre work, there are two 45-minute shows, Gruppe 38’s Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel for 7+ (4 June 1.30pm & 6pm; Sun 12.30pm & 3pm) and Teater Refleksion with The Ugly Duckling for 5-8s (7 June 1.30pm & 6pm; 8 June 10.30am & 1.30pm).

THE HOME TEAM PLAYS IBSEN

Add a performance batch from Hatch, the Nottingham-based group who have developed work with six European artists working in non-standard settings. Plus play-readings and other events that fill-out the substantial NEAT 11 catalogue. The only thing apparently missing is a major contribution from the Playhouse itself.

Oh, but what’s here? Up to 1 June they’re playing The League of Youth a comic-edged drama with the intrigue of House of Cards, showing a political spectrum from Philip Bretherton’s wily conservative to the dynamic young opportunist Stensgard – Sam Callis, toting a yellow tie and, coalition conscious, willing to be in league with anyone to promote himself.

It’s an early piece by Ibsen, with fascinating foretastes of later plays, particularly An Enemy of the People, but also a plot strand used (very differently) in A Doll’s House and hints of The Pillars of Society, Ghosts and Rosmersholm (review by Alan Geary in the Midlands file).

MORE THAN MERE ART

So, exciting times right now in Nottingham, built through ETC connections made over the years. Times are hard, but there’s the whisper of a possible NEAT 13. Nottingham City Council has admirably joined with Arts Council England and ETC itself to fund the event – an excellent realisation that cultural activity can stimulate and regenerate a place, as well as put it on the international map.

But there’s a more urgent reason for such links to be made, and for people to be talking –and listening, and appreciating – across national and linguistic boundaries. The General Assembly this year is dedicated to the memory of Anna Yablonskaya, the 29-year old Ukrainian playwright and poet killed last January, on her way to a Cinema Art award ceremony in the Moscow bombing at Domodedovo Airport.

Then, on 4 April, Israeli Arab actor, film-maker and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead at the theatre he founded. This was in Jenin Refugee Camp, where Arna’s Children was filmed.

Beneath the fury and fun, theatre has a place in asserting the value of life and the vital importance of communication.

Details of NEAT 11 on www.neatfestival.co.uk.

2011-05-30 13:57:45

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