The Craiova Shakespeare Festival of 2006


Michael Hattaway


From 25 April until 3 May 2006 I was privileged to be a participant in the Fifth International Shakespeare Festival, held every three years at the National Theatre in Craiova, Romania.  Craiova is a pleasant town in southern Wallachia.  We stayed in a large comfortable hotel, the Jiul, which was connected to the theatre by a broad path, bordered by much-used outdoor chess tables, which snaked up through a park to the Theatre.  There is an excellent small art gallery where we were treated to an exhibition of glass-work by the eminent artist Mihai Topescu, good restaurants, and some interesting churches in a city which is recovering from severe deindustrialisation.

            The Theatre 'Marin Sorescu' is a fine airy modern building with expansive vestibules and a large mezzanine floor that held an inspiring exhibition of the work of the designer Vittorio Holtier and on which were held a number of book launches and, after each performance, a buffet supper where participants could meet the visiting companies.  Guests included academics and students, theatre critics, and festival organisers – a refreshing combination that generated good conversation.  There is a studio auditorium where Romanian students and actors worked on dance and with masks, the latter led for the week by Professor David Chambers of Yale.

            Craiova had been the theatre of the eminent Romanian director Silviu Pucarete, and it was fitting that the second production we saw was a most inventive Twelfth Night performed by members of the home company. Emil Boroghina, ex-director of the National Theatre, is now Executive and Artisic Director of the Festival, and he had assembled an opulent procession of productions, a fresh one every evening.  He was supported in this extraordinary feat by Mircea Cornisteanu, current Director of the Theatre.

            The week opened with Declan Donnellan's Twelfth Night performed by an all male cast in Russian by the International Chekhov Festival in Moscow – there were Romanian surtitles for each production.   Two Twelfth Nights, then, cheek by jowl, and, later in the week, two Cymbelines, one presented by the Odeon Theatre in Bucharest, directed by Laszlo Bocsardi, and the other, far more vigorous, played in the Studio as if on a cricket pitch, presented by the German Theatre in Timisoara, directed by Alexander Hausvater.

            Highlights were an immaculate Noh-inspired Winter's Tale by the Ryutopia Theatre Niigata from Japan, directed by Kurita Yoshihiro, with superb costumes by Shingo Tokihiro, and an athletic Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Oskaras Korsunovas from Vilnius. Members of  Ryutopia company are very young:  the control of their movements and precision of the mise en scene made for an evening of sheer beauty and rarified pathos.  In contrast, each player in the Lithuanian company carried a wooden board, about two metres by one metre, throughout the production.  Sometimes these were functional, creating, for example, an overhead pathway, at other times it looked as though a Mondrian painting had come to life with crazy movement.  It worked, and was matched by yet another paired production of the play, directed by Serhej Masloboyshchykov for the New Theatre in Budapest and the Castle Theatre in Gyula, which began with a pregnant Diana figure, on roller skates, giving birth to a moon ...

Less successful were the Noord Nederlands Toneel from Groningen, whose director Marc Becker travestied Macbeth. Macbeth and his wife moved as Punch and Judy behind a gawdy puppet stage upon the stage (why?), and a retro Measure for Measure from the National Theatre of Novi Sad in Serbia (director Dajan Mijac), performed, with unfortunately sexist moments, in dull light on a stale and distressed set that recalled the unsuccessful papier maché mise en scène Orson Welles used in his film of Macbeth.
The Craiovan company triumphed twice more, first with a witty and brilliantly designed Romeo and Juliet, directed by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, and then with a magnificent version by the same director of Euripides' Medea. The richly talented Cerasela Iosifescu took the lead - earlier in the week she had played a brash nouveau riche Lady Capulet (who fancied Paris) and a skittish Olivia. (Medea was substituted for the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv's Hamlet that could not be performed, we were told, because its set had been held up in Port Said.)
For a British spectator these were exciting evenings. Perhaps too many of the productions were concept-driven by directors in search of innovation, but the amount of sheer talent assembled in this corner of Europe was formidable, a demonstration that there are far more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Straford-upon-Avon and London.