Lisbon’s Almada Festival

imageThe Almada Festival, although in its 31st year, is little known, even in Portugal.

Unable to book online and hopeful of something I wanted to see because of the lateness of their program publication, I was told by my hotel porter to just turn up. There was however something I really did want to see and that is La Reunification des Deux Corees, a French production by Joel Pommerat, a writer/director who had been invited to spend some time with Peter Brook.
Arriving at this festival location there is a hubbub of activity, outdoor dining and music and a very gracious and committed crowd of festival and theatre goers. This festival is quite unique, as is the island of Almada, which had an independent identity from Neolithic times  to comparatively recently.

My instinct tells me that this theatre developed as a result of the 1970’s political activity, but I have yet to confirm the activities of Joaquim Benite after whom the main theatre is named. It certainly seems to have its roots in socialist democratic activities.

On turning up at the Box Office, it’s a subscription festival and I was in a queue for a no-show ticket. But I’ve come from Australia for this! It was full last night, so don’t worry you’ll probably get in! Two performances only!!!

So off to have a beer, a snack and to calm my nerves. I’m constantly surprised by the variation of prices – this beer and little meat pie for €2.50 compared to a taxi ride of €20 illustrates tourist high need and high prices. This taxi driver wanted to drive me to my next destination, Merida, for €1000! My express bus ticket is €13.00.

Outside on the terrace to indulge this new found economy, but, alas, no table space. While I was quite willing to stand and people watch, the English speaking, German customer in the queue before me invited me to take his table. Thank you, but please stay here with me. Have you come especially for this festival? So have I. And so starts a lengthy conversation about festivals we have been to and our desire to see this show. When I tell him I couldn’t get a ticket, he disappears to the box office and returns with a ticket for €15.

Stefan Schmidtke, as a co-artistic director of the Vienna Festival, is responsible for the drama programme, and is here to view this show for Vienna 2015. He travels the world looking for product.  It transpires that he is very knowledgeable about the state of Australian theatre and how comparatively impoverished it is from the lack of the type of government support that exists in Europe. However, he was most complementary about the  success of Simon Stone’s The Wild Duck in Vienna in 2013.

Stefan was of course the ideal theatre companion and we sat together in the show. And what a great show it was. We had both agreed that theatre in foreign languages that we don’t understand can often determines the quality and effectiveness of theatre and this was no exception. Presented in French with Portuguese surtitles and without an interval, this was a tour de force on scenes from heterosexual relationships. Sometimes it was high French film comedy and at others kitchen sink tragedy, plus the use of many other theatrical devices including a high camp chanteuse, the arrival of carnival dodge ’em cars, all delivered with the slickest/seamless technical transitions I have ever seen.

To explain the title, The Reunification of the Two Koreas, is a metaphor for the geographical/political tension that exists in relationships. To further the metaphor, the space is divided in a bi frontal set up in which the audience is looking at each other over a transverse corral. It is most effective and facilitates the elements of surprise so imaginatively orchestrated with lights and sound.

This show is an outstanding piece of theatre. The actors, mostly mature, are relentless in their energy and versatility in taking on a range of characters that just keep adding layers to the theatrical premise. I’m sure Stefan will pick it up for Vienna, (he was off to talk to the production manager, while I went to find a cab) and we can only hope that it makes it to Australia perhaps for a Melbourne International  Festival. However, I can’t see the Arts Centre using its stage for the presentation at the expense of it’s 2 thousand seater auditorium. At Almada, the show was presented on the stage of the very beautiful Barbican-style theatre. And this show would never work in a conventional set up. Sadly for me I won’t get to see a show in the theatre proper on this occasion but I will definitely return to the Almada Festival  to see more of this style of work. And sadly, too, I was so caught up in the immediacy of the unfolding events, I did not take one photo! So this post has a collection of random Lisbon and Cascais shots.

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And this is what this travel is all about, seeing the world and seeing world theatre. And although I have deliberately chosen to see fewer shows this year, so far the things I have seen have been stand outs.

Tomorrow I travel to Merida to see a Flamenco version of Medusa in the Roman Ampitheatre. It too is sold out and I’m expecting it to be outstanding.

 

 

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