Teatro A Corte festival
Various venues, Turin
July, 2008

This column is being composed in a hotel room in Bath during the press-opening phase of the Peter Hall Company’s annual season here; by the time it reaches you, I will be packing for (or perhaps already departed on) this year’s Edinburgh season (it seems Lyn Gardner of the Guardian and I are now the only national press representatives to remain in Edinburgh for more or less the duration, and even we knock off before the very end of the International Festival) and am recently returned from the first batch of presentations at this year’s Teatro a Corte festival in Turin.  Plenty of scope for musing about festival and season programming.

Danny Moar of the Theatre Royal, Bath is one of the canniest programmers in British theatre.  With the Hall season each summer and various productions through the rest of the year, he has one eye on national tours and West End transfers as sources of additional revenue and profile for his own theatre.  Jonathan Mills is showing himself far more disposed than his Edinburgh predecessor Brian McMaster to strike out beyond the usual international-festival-circuit suspects in his theatrical programming; however, Edinburgh’s theme this year, “Artists Without Borders”, seems a little tenuous – how much of the work is actually, consciously musing on frontiers and differences of identification, and how much this is simply a fancy way of saying, “We have shows from lots of countries”, remains to be seen.


Beppe Navello of Teatro a Corte, too, talks it more impressively than he walks it, at least on the evidence of the first week’s offerings in and around Turin.  “Theatre at Court” is the second year in which the former Teatro Europeo festival is programmed in and around the former residences of the Piedmontese royal House of Savoy.  Thus, during my visit, performance venues included the piazzetta in front of the royal palace in Turin and the former barracks of the Piedmontese cavalry as well as more conventional spaces such as the Teatro Gobetti and Teatro Astra and also the town square of nearby Moncalieri (the original Savoyard venue there having been damaged by fire).  Public statements about the festival include resolutions that “for us theatre means words as well as shapes, gestures, figure, dance, visuals, lights, music, video, fire, water, clowns, nouveau cirque, plastic art” and that it “wants to be the meeting point of the new European creativity, where prose talks to dance, mime, music, circus, street theatre and new technologies”.  The reality during my stay was an almost complete absence of words, prose, talking, except as decorative adjuncts to visual performances.  By the end, I was thirsting for the kind of theatre that involves people speaking to each other onstage.

I’m aware that this sounds like an unhelpfully conservative, and characteristically English, attitude (not to say an ungrateful one after an expenses-paid trip, though that shouldn’t be relevant).  It’s certainly all too easy for British critics (of whom I was the only one present) to fall prey to such reactionism, but in this case the nature and quality of the work reinforced it strongly.  Two of the ten events on offer during the period were street-theatre spectacles: Pi-Leau by the Dutch company Close-Act was a visually arresting but thematically incomprehensible piece about man’s relationship with the oceans which seemed to boil down to “two legs bad, four fins good”; and I’m afraid that I simply couldn’t be bothered to get close enough to see Alma Candela, Calor Humano by Alkimia 130 from Spain.


My negligence was because I had by now seen two further underwhelming performances in the same piazzetta.  Démodés by Spanish trio La Tal Con Leandre misfired because its casual early-evening street audience expected conventional clowning rather than a moderately thoughtful deconstruction of it – it seemed possible to tell which moments were intentionally failing to get laughs and which were just failing.  Macadam Piano was merely a sideshow, too insubstantial to merit crediting as a spectacle in itself (though entered as such in the festival programme): Jean-Louis Cortès simply tinkled some cocktail-lounge piano tunes on a baby grand which – OK – happened to be motorised and trundling around the square.  But really, a piece without substance.

Similarly, Nuovo Cinema Circo in the cavalry stables attempted to dress itself up with a clutch of references to and analogies with film, but in essence was simply a showing – and not even a graduation showing, but a work-in-progress outing – by the students of Turin’s Vertigo circus school.  Some of my colleagues admired the skills exhibited by these students, but for me they just weren’t ready; none of the evening’s performances showed a fraction of the ability, commitment or intensity of the Keith Jarrett piano improvisation played to accompany a tight-rope sequence.  (Jarrett, coincidentally, played a concert in the city the evening after I left.)  Again, it seems rather pompous to say that these shows have no place in an international festival, but I felt that a certain disregard was shown also to the student performers by pushing them in at the deep end like that.


The festival’s programming seemed to be trying to straddle the dual bases of populism and high art.  If, for me at least, the first of these elements was unsuccessful, the second was no better.  Philipp Boë’s Memoire De La Nuit was a performance with all the occasional obscurity but none of the frequent delight of its artistic inspiration, René Magritte; Josef Nadj once again demonstrated his own painterly eye with Entracte, but the piece itself (based, apparently, on the I Ching) was so sterile that the Nadj enthusiasts among our party were apologising to the rest of us afterwards.

Patrik Cottet Moine’s untitled collection of comedy-mime sketches were skilful and amusing, but again insubstantial; moreover, when a mime artist calls at the end for applause for his sound operator, and when the biggest audience responses are for moments at which the mime interacts with audio gimmicks, there seems to me to be something wrong.  Of all the shows I saw (not including Spanish company Senza Tempo’s A+, Cosas Que Nunca Te Conté, which we saw in an open rehearsal in the small hours of the morning and so it would be unfair to pass an opinion), only Nola Rae’s Exit Napoleon (Pursued By Rabbits) paid requisite attention to both style and content, had something to say and said it articulately and powerfully.  That, too, looks like nationalism, but so be it.  After a week, I found myself in the absurd position of being relieved to have returned from all that Italian stuff to, er, some Pirandello in Chichester.  Ah, but that’s another story, which you’ll find later in these pages…

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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