Caro Meets Festivals Interview Theatre Interview

Dave Wybrow and Sharlit Deyzac: Voila! Europe

By | Published on Thursday 2 November 2017

You might, in previous years, enjoyed the fruits of the Voila! Festival at The Cockpit, a series of events with the French language at its core. If so, you’ll no doubt be delighted to hear that it’s now called Voila! Europe, and is expanding in remit and size.
To find out more about the festival, in both its previous and new form, I spoke to Dave Wybrow, artistic director at the venue, and producer of Voila!, and Sharlit Deyzac, programmer of the festival.

CM: First things first, how long has the festival been running, and why was it set up? Who decided this was a good idea? What are the aims of the festival?
DW: This is first year of Voila! Europe. Previously it was a French language festival. (Not just work from France, we were getting around to French speaking Africa too.) The point was the language not really the nationality or state.

It was set up to showcase French speaking companies in London and to encourage multi-lingual work on stage because it was interesting to me to look at the possibilities for theatre that acknowledged the partial understanding and comprehension that is part of the audience experience of live theatre but is also its least acknowledged characteristic.

As you experience theatre, attention comes and goes, not everything makes total sense all of the time. There are enigmas of narrative and character, some of which get resolved more clearly than others while others never resolve at all. And each experience is different. Because, with theatre and unlike film, the audience member can choose where to look within the action. The reading process is not consistent. Meanings come and go. Doing multilingual theatre is an exploration and development of that.

Now Voila! has become Voila! Europe because we decided that there is no need to stop at French. There are 23 official languages across Europe. Plus another 60 recognised languages. Plus hundreds more regional variations. Plus good language and bad language in all languages. All these languages are in flux. And most Europeans speak more than one. A festival that reflects this seemed to be in order – and addresses an historic British shortcoming along the way.

CM: Is the festival entirely in European languages? Do you have to speak one to get something out of it?
DW: It’s in Languages spoken across Europe. To me that includes Farsi and any number of African languages too as well as Russian (We’ll get there). The point is that languages and people cross borders and languages change – and people change – as that happens. Basically it’s an exploration of culture as change. As a verb. Not a noun.

So no, you don’t need to speak a foreign language to attend the festival. Any more than you need one to live in the world. In fact if you don’t speak a foreign language Voila! Europe will probably help you lose your fear of them. Because you will find you understand a lot more than you thought you could. Either because it’s bi-lingual or because it’s sub-titled – or just because making things understood in more than one way is what theatre is so good at. It’s a great festival for people that are scared of languages. As I am.

CM: What sort of scale are we talking – how many events are there? And I know it’s primarily at The Cockpit, but I think it’s expanding out to other venues too?
SD: This year we wanted to collaborate with other venues to spread the festival across the capital and attract to new audiences in different pockets of London. We were therefore able to take on more companies (30 in total!) and cater to their specific needs. Voila!Europe will be at Etcetera Theatre in Camden to provide a smaller space for shows that needed a more intimate atmosphere and Applecart Arts in Newham have taken on emerging companies in their new arts venue, providing the artists with a residency in the building to develop their work in the lead up to the festival.

CM: What kind of performances can we expect? Is it all theatre?
SD: Voila! Europe is mainly a theatre festival that showcases plays in a variety of genres. You’ll find documentary theatre, a dance-puppetry performance, an improv league, performance art, a multimedia show blending poetry, physical theatre and film, comedy, classics revisited, clown, poetry, experimental physical work, devised theatre, new writing, circus, stand up, an acting workshop and even an opportunity to catch a work in progress. We programme two shows per night so the audience can watch a double bill of multi-genre and multi-lingual work from all over Europe!

CM: How do you go about selecting what will be on as part of the festival?
SD: I look for companies with a strong take on the work they’re making. We get excited by shows that could not be made by any other company, that feel bespoke and committed to the people who are making it. Engaged theatre as Dave would call it.

CM: Are there any particular themes or strands?
SD: This year we received many projects about belonging, not belonging or searching for a way to belong. With shows like ‘Rootlost’, ‘Expat Underground’, ‘Hyperion’, ‘La Franglaise’, and ‘Unbelonger’, it’s interesting to see how differently each company expresses themselves through their chosen genre and style on a similar subject.

We also have three pieces exploring our responsibility as humans to help save the planet from global warming: A story tale about one woman’s comedic yet revelatory shamanic experience in the jungle with ‘Carry it to the End’, a three hander experimental clown piece with costumes made out of reclaimed rubbish leftover at Glastonbury with ‘Stuck’, and also an epic family puppet show about plastic pollution made entirely of upcycled plastic bags with ‘Odysseus Plastok’.

CM: What are you especially looking forward to (if that’s not too difficult a question!)?
DW: Visiting different venues: Applecart Arts and The Etcetera as well as The Cockpit. So I can have a drink at the bar without worrying about something…

SD: I’m trying to find a way to split myself into three as I’d like to be in all three theatres at the same time each night! I’m very excited about Monday 13th at The Cockpit where two companies will be coming over from France to perform their shows about two strong French women. The controversial writer Francoise Sagan, and the infamous but seemingly not so well-known Marie-Antoinette. Two projects led by women over 55, a group that tends to be under-represented in theatre…

CM: What have been your highlights in previous years?
DW: ‘Le Moulin Magique’ by French company TSF. It was a kid’s show that came in during the early Voila days and got absolutely no audience because of no-one’s-fault marketing issues. It featured urinary incontinence. It was hilarious and one of the best small touring shows I have ever seen. The company did it for an audience of eight with total professionalism and commitment. Just for the Cockpit staff in the end. It was perfect night out. It was completely in French and I understood it completely. And I speak no French. I even learnt a song about carrots.

SD: I would say I’ve been highly impressed with Drama Barbe, a very promising actor-led emerging company who started their collective just to be a part of Voila! They have been staging work from writers in Canada and Australia, which are premieres in the UK. Their style is unique, inventive, intimate and bold. Their plays were a hit with audiences both last year and the year before so I look forward to their new show by Daniel Keane, translated in French, programmed this year at The Etcetera.

Also I have been very proud that quite a few shows have premiered at Voila! and then found success in Europe. For example ‘Cuisine Diplomatique’ originated at Voila!, and the show is now in its third year of touring France after two successful Avignon Festivals and a four month run in Paris!

CM: Do you feel as though the festival is perhaps even more relevant in the face of all the Brexit shenanigans?
DW: Whatever you think of Brexit, certain losses are undeniable. Two years ago you could call London “The Cultural Capital of Europe” and no-one would bat an eyelid but you can’t say that now. I love London as an international, cosmopolitan arts hub and I am not going to let that go easily.

So yes this is a push-back against borders going up. I want people from all over to come to Voila! Europe and feel welcome and valued. I also want to know what theatre across Europe is talking about. Different regions have very different priorities. Voila! is a way London can find out what those priorities are. Because this is essentially local theatre from different places happening in London. Not International Art Theatre with a National brand, like Pina Bauch or Robert Lepage or the Bolshoi.

CM: Give us a short sell on why Voila! Europe is great?
DW: Culturally, Europe is not really divided by vertical national borders (politicians depend on them for a living but few others do). Europe is characterised more by horizontal class and social typologies and shared or not shared languages. It’s time to come to Voila! Europe and connect.

The Voila! Europe Festival is on at The Cockpit Theatre, Etcetera Theatre, and Applecart Arts from 8-18 Nov. See this page here for an overview of all events.

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