Ian Herbert Kongresie

Ian Herbert
Ina Herbert

W kwietniowym numerze londyńskiego The Stage ukazał się komentarz Ina Herberta, honorowego przewodniczącego IATC/AICT o warszawskim Kongresie, który przytaczamy w całości.



I wonder how British audiences – and the notoriously insular London critics – are going to respond to the flood of foreign companies arriving in London and Stratford over the coming months? We’ve already had some not very well informed rumblings over the plans for Israel’s National Theatre, the Habimah, to visit, though none so far objecting to the Palestinian troupe that will follow them. I hope our theatre-going public will want to discover the wealth of diverse and exciting theatre that will be on offer, rather than getting caught up in political side-shows.

My own sketchy knowledge of world theatre was greatly expanded in Warsaw last month, when the International Association of Theatre Critics held its 26th biennial congress. There were more than a hundred critics present from over 40 countries in the largest ever of these gatherings.

Apart from the formal business of electing its officers and approving a busy programme for the next two years, the visitors had the chance to see some of the latest and most controversial work in Polish theatre, since the annual Warsaw Theatre Meetings were in progress at the same time. They also took part in a two day conference on ‘Theatre Beyond Theatre’, with 25 contributors reflecting on the way theatre has moved more and more out of conventional spaces into parks, factories, shopping malls, rivers and a host of other specific sites.

Years ago, in the days of largely European cultural competition between East and West, these conferences used to be quite purgatorial, as ‘official’ critics earned their right to a travel grant by devoting half an hour or more to the glorious achievements of their country’s theatre. It was almost a rule that the smaller the country, the longer was the contribution.

It’s different now: I had the privilege of chairing one of the sessions, which included fascinating contributions from the US, Nigeria, India, South Africa and Japan as well as Greece, Sweden and the host country, Poland. Our Nigerian and Indian friends reminded us that most of their theatre was and still is staged in non-conventional spaces –and did you know that there are 1500 different shows a month now produced in Mumbai alone? From South Africa we heard that although segregated theatre audiences were finally abolished in 1978, an ‘unconscious’ segregation continues to this day. The Japanese paper described the importance of theatre in responding to the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

The European papers were no less valuable. The response of the National Theatre of Northern Greece to the current crisis has been to offer its tickets in exchange for cans of food to give to the homeless. In the Polish industrial city of Legnica, the theatre is combating urban deprivation with consciousness-raising performances in housing estates.

But it was our Swedish colleague who had some more general advice for critics responding to the changes which are influencing theatre worldwide. She welcomed both the reduced dominance of the text in today’s theatre, since most of what we learn is absorbed visually, and the decline in ‘post-modern’ irony, a trend that has no place in direct, site-specific experience. Above all, she pointed out that many of the new (or re-emergent) forms of performance demand interactivity: it is no longer possible for the critic to adopt a dispassionate, ‘objective’ stance – they have to join in, to take and state personal positions. Which may be no bad thing.

All this is not to say that the new theatre forms are better or more valuable than the tradition of Western theatre that has developed over the last century or so. There will always be a place (and a huge global audience) for text-based plays and musicals in conventional spaces. But the new forms are growing. They may demand new critical approaches: many of them, as our Greek speaker so delicately put it, tread the fine line between high art and bullshit. We still need critics who can define where that line lies.


Ian Herbert 9 April 2012 660 words



Leave a Reply