(This review appeared in The EastAfrican 10th-16th November 2012)
Click here to read my review and other critics’ reviews in the festival bulletin.
The 47th Maribor Theatre Festival in Slovenia, described as “a brilliant projection of Slovenian theatrical essence,” ended on 26th October. Maribor, one of the two 2012 European capitals of culture, showcased a wide selection of Slovenian theatre productions notably from the Slovenian National Theatre.
Further than the Furthest Thing by the Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris, which premiered in Edinburgh twelve years ago to critical acclaim was presented at the festival by Ljubljana City Theatre.
Very much like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the language in this play is archaic, depicting a people caught in a bubble of time- a shipwrecked community on the remote island of Tristan da Cunha, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic, halfway between South Africa and South America.
The play is a modern tragedy and is generally well carried by the cast. But had I known what was coming next for me in the festival, I would have probably enjoyed it much more than I did.
This is because later that evening, I watched Mandićmachine performed by an accomplished actor, Marko Mandić, which is a compilation of the roles he has played between 1996 and 2000.
This in principal, sounds like a brilliant idea- the actor morphing from one role into the next, taking the audience on an epic journey through the fictional worlds of Creon, King Lear and all the other characters he has embodied.
But it turns out to be abhorrent exhibitionism on the part of Mandić, which ranges from being stark naked, to urinating on stage, and many other unmentionable things in between. The leitmotif of the text is, ‘what is theatre?’
Needless to say, this salient question sparked an intense debate amongst stunned critics at a seminar that ran concurrently with the festival. We were shocked to learn from one of the Slovenian critics that the show was one of a trilogy but were none-the-less relieved to know that vast majority of Slovenians are equally shocked by this production and do not think it is theatre.
This prompted a critic from Romania to comment on what he described as the hypocrisy of audiences, referring to a trend amongst middle-class theatre-goers in Europe who pretend that they are not offended by such performances, so that they come across as being connoisseurs of ‘postmodern’ trends.
I refrain from getting into the whole discussion of postmodernism. Suffice to say that for me, it is nothing more than intellectual and creative laziness masquerading as art.
Keeping up with postmodernism, there followed a most peculiar production directed by Oliver Frljić, of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, which involves (no exaggeration) blurting out the text as fast as is humanly possible and attempting to get the entire three-hour play over and done with within an hour and twenty minutes at the end of which, the rest of the unaccomplished plot is read out by one of the characters, as from a novel.
Conference of the Birds presented by the Slovene National Theatre Maribor, starts with much promise, being set up like a modern conference and the birds being likened to personalities we identify with like movie starts and footballers. However, it soon becomes apparent that the choice of set and the size of the stage will not effectively contain the epic scope of the plot and the fact that not much has been done by way of lighting or stage effects to create mood and atmosphere, gives the production a rather amateur outcome and it largely lacks finesse.
The next show was the epitome of postmodern self-indulgence: Janez Janša’s Who is Next. I cannot find words to describe it other than: a lot of noise, some images projected to the back wall and various random actions and random texts culminating in the cast counting backwards from 300, in choral style.
This was then followed the same evening by the stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s A Fisherman and His Soul, directed by Ivan Peternelj, which is not the best production I’ve ever seen but after the failed Three Sisters and the bewildering Who is Next, it came as a welcome respite.
Christopher Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons, (which was adapted to a film of the same title in 1988) presented by the Slovene National Theatre Maribor has a set that comprises mirrors only, which revolve about axes as high as the stage and which when stationery and aligned next to each other, cover the breadth of the stage in two rows. The actors turn the mirrors as though they were opening and shutting doors to the different scenes.
After all the (ineffective) experimental theatre I had seen during the festival, I was pleased to leave Slovenia with the memory of this production, whose refined, classical acting is, I hope, the real projection of Slovenian theatrical essence.
©Anne Manyara 2012