Avignon Festival champions European theatre and political debate

The Avignon Festival is still going strong with a programme of some 40 shows, drama, dance and other performing arts after its humble beginnings under the guidance of Jean Vilar in 1947 post-war France.

A full house in the Pope's Palace Courtyard of Honour at the Avignon Festival
A full house in the Pope's Palace Courtyard of Honour at the Avignon Festival

Festival director Olivier Py and his team this year have placed a heavy accent on the history of European theatre, from ancient Greece to Shakespeare and Molière and beyond.

Py, for example, is staging Hamlet with a cast drawn from the inmates of a local prison based on workshops with the prisoners.

Former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has helped put together a series of readings to be performed daily for two weeks by students from the national drama conservatory and amateurs in a garden in the centre of Avignon.

Py asked her to compose a lesson in democracy lesson based on texts about winning rights, among the authors Victor Hugo, Virginia Woolf and Jean Jaurès. It is called On Aura Tout (We Will Have it All).

Meanwhile, German director and Avignon regular Frank Castorf, directs  Die Kabale der Scheinheiligen. Das Leben des Herrn de Molière (The Hypocrites' Kabbala,The Life of Mr Molière) , based on a work by Russian writer Mikael Boulgakov, Mr Molière's Story.

Some of the conservative French press have criticised Py for being too political.

Py, however, sees nothing wrong with this.

"Theatre's appropriation of myth is its own way of talking about politics," he said.

It's a good year for artists from Africa, in fact the largest contingent from the region since the final year of Hortense Archambault and Vincent Baudriller's ground-breaking Avignon programme in 2013.

Py announced on Thursday that ticket sales for the play by Rwandan Dorothée Munyaneza called Unwanted about rape in conflict sold the fastest as soon as bookings opened. Within two days, the six shows in the Chartreuse were full.

Women too form a sort of focal group, whether African-origin like Béninoise singer Angélique Kidjo and Rwandan director Dortothée Munyaneza with Unwanted.

The European focus is reinforced by feminst Katie Mitchell with Jean Genet's The Maids, or French actress and dancer, Juliette Binoche who, along with Alexandre Tharaud, revisits the lyrics and melodies of the late famous French singer, Barbara.

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