Praise and prize for theatre on the edge of Europe

29 April 2011 | In the news

Kristian Smeds is awarded the XII Europe Prize of New Theatrical Realities in St Petersburg on 17 April, presented by a previous prize-winner, Italian theatremaker Pippo Delbono. Photo: rossetti/phocusagency

Theatremaker Kristian Smeds (born 1970) was awarded the XII Europe Theatre Prize for New Theatrical Realities in St Petersburg on 17 April. The prize, worth 30,000 euros, was – this time – divided between six prominent theatremakers or theatre groups. (For more information, see the Premio Europa website.)

The international prize jury consists of representatives of many institutions of the field. Since 1986 the main prize, the Europe Theatre Prize (worth 60,000 euros), has been awarded to 14 European theatremakers considered influential – among them, the directors and/or writers Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Brook, Heiner Müller, Lev Dodin, Harold Pinter, and now, the German director Peter Stein.

Since 1986, six of these Europe prizes have gone to Italy and Germany each, four to France, and, for example, none to any Nordic countries. The focus has evidently been on the theatre of southern and central Europe, which is where the most important theatre festivals take place; theatremakers from the edges of Europe find it  difficult to make the journey there, to be seen and noticed. It is obvious, though, to anyone in the business, that ‘prizeworthy’ theatre does not come only from the European heartlands.

The jury finally seems to have woken up to this (theatrical) reality, as Iceland and Finland were now among the prize-winners. (Kristian Smeds had been on the proposals list since 2001.)

Smeds’s latest work, a stage adaptation of a Paul Auster novel, Mr Vertigo (for more on the subject, see ‘Is it a novel, is it a play?’), produced by the Finnish National Theatre, premiered last autumn, travelled to St Petersburg and was shown twice at the Baltic House Theatre in the course of the Prize festivities and the Russian Accent theatre programme. Despite a the lack of simultaneous interpretation (mission impossible, as the audience sits mostly on the revolving stage), Mr Vertigo was universally appreciated.

The other recipients of the (shared) prize were the directors Viliam Dočolomanský (Slovak / Czech Republic), Katie Mitchell (UK) and Andrey Moguchiy (Russia) and the theatres Vesturport (Iceland) and Meridional (Portugal).

Walt the Wonder Boy: Tero Jartti as Walt in Mr Vertigo (the Finnish National Theatre, 2010, directed by Kristian Smeds). Photo: Antti Ahonen

A book on the process of transforming Auster’s novel for the stage, Lentoharjoituksia. Mr Vertigon matka näyttämölle (‘Flying rehearsals. The journey of Mr Vertigo onto the stage’ [in Finnish only]) was published in a new series of works by the Finnish National Theatre and the publisher Kirja kerrallaan. It includes a foreword by Kristian Smeds, the play text, rehearsal notes by critic Kirsikka Moring and an afterword by the editor of the book, Aina Bergroth, on Paul Auster’s writing.

Short samples of original music from Mr Vertigo available here, by Verneri Pohjola’s jazz trio.