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Playwrights Corner


Playwrights corner


© Monica Madej
Does England remain an island ? | Caroline Ferreira and Marianne Badrichani

« So...

It all began with a meeting of the ‘‘reflection committee’’ about a year before the start of Paris Calling, a Franco-British season of performing arts in the U.K. After examining the programming we discovered to our great disappointment that contemporary French plays were not well-represented.

Indeed, the artistic decisions regarding Paris Calling had been entrusted to British theater professionals, who had logically chosen what they already knew of the French theatre scene, which was unfortunately mainly physical theater and left out contemporary texts.

In this difficult U.K. territory –you might even call it a minefield– the only possible approach is to leave the final choice up to the partners and never try to impose your own views. So the Paris Calling team got to work selecting 16 plays to represent the broad range of French theatre, to be passed on to the well-read members of the British reading committee.

Our selection included contemporary classics such as Vinaver, Lagarce and Pommerat, as well as more recent playwrights such as David Lescot, Marion Aubert and Ronan Cheneau.  The list was presented to the National Theatre Studio, a space for research and development on contemporary playwriting, connected to the prestigious Royal National Theatre.

The reading group’s purpose was to select the plays most likely to interest British audiences. We were not surprised by their selection.

It’s hard not to notice the antagonism between French and British playwriting. At the risk of oversimplifying, it could be summed up by saying that British playwriting likes to concentrate on the social and political issues of our messy world, whereas French playwrights explore –often painfully– the contours of their inner lives and emotional cores.  While English playwriting focuses on plot and character development refined by typically British humour and distance, the French prefer to experiment with language and form.

The English were said to be good with plot, humour and dialogue, and the French at innovation, poetry and monologue.
The cliché of English pragmatism versus French metaphysical questions had struck again.

Nevertheless, 6 plays were chosen. And if you had to find a common denominator among them, you might evoke the following words: rawness, dark humour, and despair hidden behind a certain levity.

The Soho, the National Theatre, the Hamsptead Theatre, the Bush, and the Traverse in Edinburgh gladly took on the challenge. To our great disappointment certain theatres such as the Gate Theatre and the Royal Court chose not to participate despite their commitment to searching for new voices. The probable explanation for this is their increasing interest in more unexplored foreign stages.

Paris Calling New Writing was quite a success in the end. The plays were well-received and audiences were large, prompting offers of future collaboration. The discussions after each reading nevertheless proved the enduring nature of the antagonism referred to above.

England remains an Island.

But the Paris Calling New Writing adventure was thrilling. It confirmed that England remains a bastion to be conquered. Yet the offensive proved to be intellectually stimulating and full of surprises. It felt like we were having a heart-to-heart talk as we tried to reach deep into the culture to find out what might have the greatest impact and also balance it. »

Caroline Ferreira, Cultural Attachée, French Embassy in the United Kingdom
 and Marianne Badrichani, stage director
London, May 2009
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