This British Academy funded two-day conference asks why there are so few contemporary European plays in translation produced on British stages. What are the barriers to the import of European drama? How might we need to reconsider our attitudes to our relationship to Europe and the idea of Europeanness in the run-up to Brexit?
Contemporary continental European plays in translation currently make up less than 1% of the work programmed on British stages. While there are a number theatre companies and festivals producing European plays on the fringe (e.g. Cervantes Theatre, LegalAliens, Foreign Affairs, Stone Crabs, Voila Europe), only two ACE NPO theatre companies regularly include this work as part of their core programme: the Gate (around two productions per year) and Actors Touring Company (around one production per year). Most theatres in the UK do not stage contemporary European plays at all.
In contrast, the work of continental European companies and directors is regularly imported into British theatre venues (Barbcian, Young Vic, National Theatre) and included in major theatre festival programmes (LIFT, Brighton Festival, Manchester International Festival, Edinburgh International Festival). The popularity of the work of European directors and companies on British stages indicates that British theatre audiences are keen to engage with the visual aesthetics of continental European theatre traditions. In contrast, there is currently little opportunity for audiences to engage with its linguistic, narrative and dramaturgical approaches through the work of European playwrights.
This raises questions around the reasons for the lack of contemporary European plays on British stages. Where are the barriers located – e.g. funders, programmers, producers, critical reception, audience reception? Despite evidence to the contrary, is there an assumption that audiences will not pay to see European plays, in the same way that it was assumed that British audiences would not watch television shows with subtitles before the success of Scandi-noir dramas such as The Bridge and The Killing? Are there issues around the way in which continental European theatre is conceptualised within British theatre as homogenous and inherently other? How accurate are audiences’ common understandings of the nature of continental European theatre?
Speakers include: Melanie Bono (Goethe Institut); Chris Campbell (Translator, former Literary Manager Royal Court, Senior Editor Oberon Books); Claudia Di Giacomo (Fabulamundi); Foreign Affairs; Lyn Gardner (Theatre Critic); Andrew Haydon (Theatre Critic); Kim Komljanec (Slovenian/UK Playwright/Dramaturge/Director); Sissi Liechtenstein (Agent International Performing Rights Ltd); Eve Leigh (UK Playwright); Jonathan Meth (The Fence); Out of the Wings; Paula Paz (Co-Founder and Associate Director, Cervantes Theatre); Simon Stokes (Artistic Director, Theatre Royal Playmouth; Ulrike Syha (German Playwright/Translator); Sarah Thom (Gob Squad); Amy Clare Tasker (Viola! Europe Theatre Festival); Matthew Xia (Artistic Director, ATC).