All the world on a stage

The London International Festival of Theatre promises to be a feast of international culture
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The Independent Culture

"There has always been a need for this richness of exchange," says Rose Fenton, whose London International Festival of Theatre (co-founded by Fenton with Lucy Neal) has been promoting innovative theatre since 1981.

"There was virtually no international theatre coming to Britain," says Fenton, who came up with the idea for LIFT while at university. "We couldn't understand why. So we determined to set up a festival in London." Now, she and Neal present, produce and commission pieces from all around the world.

Although such events have become more popular - and common - over the years (viz the Barbican's Bite season and its ilk), when Fenton and Neal first championed the concept, everybody else was deeply cynical. "There was no reciprocity here," says Fenton. "It's rather like going to other people's parties all the time, and never holding one yourself."

For LIFT 2003, they have chosen to focus on the voices of young people - as artists and creators, as well as spectators. As usual, productions will be performed at an unusual range of venues (such as a disused corner shop, and Battersea Park in the dead of night). "It confounds every sort of normal theatre experience," says Fenton. "When theatre falls out of pattern, then audiences will as well - in the way they perceive the world."

King Matt (Battersea Arts Centre, 4-8 June) explores what life might be like under a child king. TAG, Scotland's national theatre company for young people, tells the story of Matt, an 11-year-old boy with a country to run - just as soon as he's finished his homework. Over at Sadler's Wells, meanwhile, Gruppe 38's Hansel and Gretel (18-20 June) is a sophisticated and suspenseful take on the fairy tale by one of Denmark's leading theatre companies. And, back at the BAC, the Cambodian theatre company Sovanna Phum brings classic Khmer culture to Britain in the form of Rousey Dek (17-19 June). This tradition of shadow puppetry "was practically decimated during the Pol Pot years. Many artists were killed," says Fenton.

They perform again at LIFT's midnight performance in Battersea Park (21 June), a gala evening that heralds both the longest day and the end of the festival. The event is rounded off by the Reverend Nagasse, keeper of the London Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park and a Buddhist monk, who will chant in the dawn at 4.43am.

And the Reverend is not the most incongruous artist at the festival: scientist and author Dr Vandara Shiva will be giving a lecture on biodiversity in the dinosaur hall of the Natural History Museum. It's all about the public debate for space, says Fenton. "The generation that was pushing at the door which was radical and revolutionary is now part of the Establishment. We are always looking out for the next wave."

LIFT: a Family Friendly Season, various venues (020-7863 8012; to 21 Jun