Theatre: A song and dance for Europe

The Royal Court Theatre has just been to Sicily to pick up a well- deserved award for its international residencies and exchange programmes. But what company does the New Theatrical Realities prize keep? Is it all it's cracked up to be?

Goethe once maintained that "in Sicily, you can find the answer to everything". He would have felt inclined to revise that view pretty thoroughly if he had spent last weekend at the Premio Europa per il Teatro - Europe Theatre Prize - a three- day event in Taormina that is a kind of Eurobabble Olympics.

The most lucrative award (60,000 euros) went this year to the German choreographer Pina Bausch, while England's Royal Court Theatre won the characteristically unreal-sounding "New Theatrical Realities" prize (20,000 euros), in recognition of its very real achievement in promoting the work of its latest wave of dramatists - the Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane and Conor McPherson generation - throughout Europe, and for its extensive international programme involving exchanges with other producing houses across the world.

One simple measure of the Court's cultural influence was highly audible. Thanks to the title of Ravenhill's biggest hit, the most unlikely people are now obliged to use the word "fucking" on a routine basis - not least, the elderly, besuited judging panel of the Premio Europa who were on stage at the final ceremony in a line-up that would make the Politburo look like Take That.

Another effect could be seen in the worryingly abnormal number of English critics it was deemed suitable to fly over for the Taormina Experience. We were there to take part in a discussion of the Court's work, and I was hoping that the occasion would help me to have some piercing Home Thoughts from Abroad, fresh insights into this key English institution arrived at through viewing it through foreign eyes.

What the Court's energising presence - which included public workshops by Max Stafford-Clark on Shopping and Fucking and by Ian Rickson on Mojo, plus a performance of The Weir - principally exposed for me, though, was a hollowness at the heart of this much-hyped prize. You would only have had to sit through half an hour of the emetic, two-day love-in to Pina Bausch to realise that this prize is ridiculously hung up on, and self- interestedly complicit with, the Cult of the Great Director and the Single Vision, when theatre, of all art forms, is the most collaborative.

But then Taormina, a ravishing coastal location overlooked by Mount Etna, is not best placed to know how to handle a theatrical community like the Court, since it has no theatrical community of its own. The Weir, a delicate, intimate piece originally played in a studio production which converted the theatre into the remote Irish pub where the drama is set, was assigned a vast, cinema-like venue, a move about as appropriate as transplanting The Archers to the amphitheatre at Epidaurus. The poor actors were forced to demonstrate the play rather than live it.

The practical side of theatre is given short shrift in Taormina. As a Swiss ballet critic remarked to me, there was no mention of Peter Pabst, Bausch's longstanding designer whose work is crucial to the Wuppertal Tanztheater's output.

Instead, the Bausch canonisation process consisted of a succession of groupies and employees emoting and waffling. One leggy dancer, too moved by her own feelings to speak coherently, pointed the microphone at her heart, which certainly stumped the simultaneous translators and caused a satisfyingly subversive screech of feedback.

We heard a lot about the speakers themselves. One glamorous, giggling Japanese TV presenter told us that she had a collection of 28,000 erasers and had written an encyclopedia on the subject. "I am deeply moved by their transient existence," she informed us, "but of course Pina herself will never disappear..." This particular testifier to the Pina cult has, we learned, put a white hotel pencil with rubber tip, once used by the great lady, into a test-tube which is on display in her home.

A Billie-Jean King lookalike with a stutter revealed that words always fail her when she sees Pina, but luckily "to be enveloped in her aurora is enough". Meanwhile, Pina, at the back of the hall, received these tributes with a look of sorrowing cosmic acceptance of her own wondrous gifts and the inexpressible Weltzschmerz attached to them.

The Court's contribution was an oasis in this abstract desert. "You English, you're so empirical," declared the French President of the International Association of Theatre Critics, not unadmiringly, after a panel where the practical steps taken to establish reciprocal relationships between foreign theatres were debated by a group including the Court's current artistic director and his last two predecessors.

It also emerged that, with this new wave of dramatists, European theatres (like the Vienna Schauspielhaus) will programme work commissioned by the Court even before it has been unveiled in England. "We don't really buy into that ethos," confessed Stephen Daldry. The Court wants the flow to be two-way, which can't happen if foreign houses have wall-to-wall English productions. Nor are they interested in European shopping sprees: their aim is to develop work with foreign writers, not merely import it.

Hence the Court's International Residency, run by Elyse Dodgson, an annual school for emergent dramatists and directors from theatrical cultures where there is no institution placing new writing at the centre of its activities. This year's residency welcomed students from countries as diverse as Uruguay and Estonia. I witnessed some of the 1999 programme, which included two days of workshops with director Katie Mitchell on Martin Crimp's fascinating extreme of stage- directionless postmodernity Attempts On Her Life; a revealing session on the relationship between dramatist and director in which Stephen Daldry and two actors worked cold on a scene cunningly concocted for the occasion by Phyllis Nagy; and an interactive lecture from Stephen Jeffreys on the six types of logic in dramatic construction.

Compared to this, the internationalism of the European Theatre Prize looks a bit of a confidence trick, strenuously designed to promote a new glamour-by- association image of Sicily: for "mafia" read "theatre". There was loud applause when one of the foreign judges rose at the award ceremony and said words to the effect that the peacefulness of the surroundings belied Sicily's reputation for violence. He can't have been using his eyes, because the Mayor of Palermo, a spearhead of the anti-mafia campaign, had been obliged to bring six bodyguards to the dinner for Pina Bausch as the result of a recent assassination.

The "Taormina Experience" can have positive results. The brilliant, subversively funny Swiss director Christophe Marthaler, who won last year's New Realities prize, found inspiration for his latest piece. He noticed that one of the critics was wearing a name-tag that simply read "Specialist", which sparked off an amusing piece satirising the beleagueredness of experts in these promiscuous, Internet times. On a composite set of a plane and train, the neurotic clinging to specialisms is visualised as a lot of clinging to, lunging at and twisting round poles and straps on a journey to nowhere.

Marthaler repaid the compliment by bringing his piece to Taormina. I think the Royal Court should commission a comic play about the hysteria- inducing soullessness and moral humbug of events like the Premio Europa per il Teatro, and take it back as their contribution to next year's event.

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific