Saturday, 11 December 2010

Cluj - Interferences 2010

Amid the furore caused by recent inclement weather, many of us might have had a sudden urge to escape. And even though Romania may be the last on your list of destinations at the best of times, when the big freeze struck and my boiler broke down, the prospect of a theatre festival in Transylvania seemed particularly heart-warming.

Commencing on 1 December – a Romanian national holiday celebrating a historical conquest of the region – the Interferences 2010 festival, organized by the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj,  appears to be an act of spirited defiance. On leave from his visiting professorship at the University of San Diego, the theatre’s artistic director Gabor Tompa will have brought an impressive flow of theatre people from around the world to the city’s Hungarian suburb over the fortnight. In just a weekend I attended a Spanish production of Endgame directed by the Polish director/designer Krystian Lupa, a French stage adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac’s novel The Other World and a co-production between Sweden’s Lars Noren and the French Romanian actress Simona Maicanescu of Wallace Shawn’s monologue about poverty Fever.

My personal favourite was the Process City Trilogy by the Croatian troupe Shadowcasters. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, this complex adaptation is rarely seen in sequence, as each piece stands alone and communicates to its audience on its own terms. 

Knowledge of Kafka’s story comes in useful only for the third part - Process in Progress – a three hander with VJ-ing performed in Cluj’s 900-seater opera house. Two actors, one actress and a series of live video-projections take it in turns to portray Josef K, not as a victim of circumstances – the way he is often understood by literary critics – but as a victim of his own ill-judged choices. Surprisingly dynamic and exciting, this piece, which also features small-scale object manipulation - has the feel of a well-constructed piece of music. It sweeps you up and carries you ahead in a way which makes some of the court scenes seem like bewildered ritual dances rather than displays of rational absurdity.

The second part of the trilogy Ex-Position, is a series of one to one performances conducted by ten actors who meet the audience members individually, gently blindfold them, and walk them through what seems like very personal narratives. On a previous occasion earlier this year at Ex-Position in Chemnitz, I ended up being taken to Hiroshima on my journey and taking away with me an origami crane, which was going to bring me luck, and which I had made myself with my eyes closed, guided by my storyteller. This year I got taken to a kind of bedlam, but was rewarded with the most tasty sandwich I ever had. The audience start out as a group in a ‘waiting room’ regaled in true Balkan fashion with - literally - 'endless' anecdotes by the trilogy’s director Boris Bakal. Bakal delivers a series of personal stories (which on closer inspection seem to be based on Kafka's motifs, an unfriendly landlady being one of the examples) and as the audience member you may never actually catch the beginning or the end of a particular story, as they go on regardless of your own entrances and exits. At the end of the journey the audience members are met in the ‘room 100’ by the piece’s softly-spoken dramaturg Katarina Pejovic for a leisurely chat over a drink. Room 100 is also known as the 'control room', where the audience can view and follow live audio and video broadcasts on small monitors of the individual journeys of other audience members. Earlier in the year at Chemnitz, I remember having endless discussions with a group of British colleagues I was attending with, about the ethical implications of this piece. The  live broadcast of the audience members' individual journeys seemed too intrusive and exploitative to some audience members, even despite my counter-argument that this is anyway happening to us on a daily basis on CCTV cameras without us ever noticing. But I was not surprised by the 'ethical issues' raised about this sort of performance, as I had already dealt with more or less similar issues surrounding the piece Internal by the Belgian company Ontroerend Goed a few months previously and concluded that the ethics on such occasions seem to be used as a kind of defence mechanism. However, what none of us knew at the time was the fact that Ex-Position was inspired by a particular parabolic reference in Kafka’s story to a peasant who waits to be admitted through the door of the Law, only to be told at the end of his life that it was up to him to find a way in. It makes me wonder whether a proscenium arch audience member is an equivalent of that peasant, as opposed to those of us choosing to take the risk and break the fourth wall as we participate in the ever-increasing trend of interactive theatre?

Finally, the first part of the trilogy, which was the last to be made chronologically but which was my very first port of call last weekend, is based on a short story by Kafka, pre-dating The Trail and featuring Josef K as a protagonist for the first time. Entitled Vacation from History, this part is based on a post-Fukuyaman premise that the only times we can take a rest from history is when we sleep or when we die. Hence, the Shadowcasters greet their audience into a room with a beautiful ceiling and tuck each member into their own bed, before proceeding with a creation of a live, intriguing, disturbing and oneiric soundscape in near darkness. And this was just what I needed, on my way out of the history-making London snow!