Critics from all over the world will gather in St Petersburg for the Europe Theatre Prize ceremony, which takes place from 12-18 April. The Europe Prize gets more overwhelming every time. This year it will celebrate not only the big winner, the German giant Peter Stein, but also no fewer than six laureates in the ‘future stars’ category, the Europe Prize for New Theatrical Realities. As if that isn’t enough, our Russian hosts want to show off their own local heroes. Looking at the latest listings in the programme (which I’ve been privileged to see, because I have to edit the English version) I count sixteen shows over the event’s six days – and on top of these there are panels every morning to introduce every winner and talk about their work. That doesn’t leave much time to pop into the Hermitage.
I used to have my doubts about Herr Stein, hailed as one of the ‘dinosaurs’ who dominated European theatre over the last decades of last century. I kept catching Edinburgh revivals of shows that had seen better days, featuring elderly casts from Russia or Italy rather than their German originators. The came Blackbird: a director more known for his Aeschylus or his Chekhov tackling a new work by a Scots writer and making a huge success of it. Now I’m a fan, and looking forward to his latest, Klaus Maria Brandauer leading the Berliner Ensemble in Kleist’s Broken Jug. Another dinosaur (of whom I’ve had many similar doubts) is Yuri Lyubimov, who’s getting a special award for being (a) Russian and (b) still at work. We’ll be seeing his recent Honey, based on poems by the great Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra (De Sica, Fellini, Antonioni – you name it, he wrote it).
There’s another Russian among the New Realities group, Andrey Moguchi, whose School for Fools stunned Edinburgh a few years back. He’s doing a version of Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird, and if that’s not enough Russian theatre you can choose from an ‘off’ programme featuring Lev Dodin doing Chekhov, Valeri Fokin with Gogol, and the crazy Ukrainian Andrey Zholdak with the cult tale of a drunken Metro ride, Moscow-Petushki.
Sadly for those who don’t know her work, the one New Realities winner without a production is our own Katie Mitchell, who will nonetheless be there as subject of a retrospective led by friends like Martin Crimp and Vicky Mortimer. Michael Billington is leading the conference on Iceland’s Vesturport, who will perform the Faust seen this year at the Young Vic as well as their Kafka Metamorphosis. Also familiar to London and Edinburgh audiences are the Czechs Farm in the Cave, directed by Viliam Dokolomansky: they too are presenting two shows, The Theatre and Journey, not to mention an extract from a new work in progress. Less known to us are Kristian Smeds, from Finland, who will be previewing what sounds a very interesting adaptation of Paul Auster’s Mr Vertigo, and the Portuguese improvisational group Teatro Meridional, A final treat will be a solo recital by Peter Stein himself, after the prize ceremony, based on his celebrated full-length Faust.