BPREVIEW: BE FESTIVAL @ Birmingham REP 02-06.07.19

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of BE FESTIVAL

BE FESTIVAL returns to the Birmingham REP for it’s 10th year, presenting a daily programme of workshops, seminars and evening performances from Tuesday 2nd July to Saturday 6th July. There will also be the BE FESTIVAL Interval Dinner – hosted on the REP’s main stage each evening, where patrons are invited to enjoy a mid-programme meal alongside the artists preforming and the festival team.

Showcasing work from performers, artists and productions companies from all across Europe, BE FESTIVAL’s main programme begins at 7pm during the week and from 12noon on Saturday 7th July. Day tickets are priced at £24 (includes both shows and dinner) or £16 (without dinner), with concessions also available. You can also purchase a Week Pass for £60 (without dinner) or £100 (including dinner), or a separate Weekend Pass for £45 which must include dinner.

BE FESTIVAL also run ‘a separate programme of amazing visual arts, exhibitions, talks, workshops and music’ for free, every day of the festival. For more BE FESTIVAL information, including the full programme and links to online ticket sales, click here.

BE FESTIVAL (or Birmingham European Festival, to give it it’s full name) has been hosting its varied programme of theatre, performances and art for a decade now, launching at REP – where it has remained – back in 2010. Spawned from an Arts Council meeting to explore the future of theatre in Birmingham, BE’s founding mother and fathers – Isla Aguilar, Miguel Oyarzun and Mike Tweddle – formulated an event programme inspired by the Spanish ACT Festival, reportedly scribbling down their initial ideas on a napkin in a Birmingham curry house. A festival fable we want to believe so much we won’t even question it.

But film clichés and Birmingham’s cuisine culture aside, BE FESTIVAL had a serious and respectable agenda – namely, to bring the best of independent theatre and performance pieces from across Europe to be celebrated in Birmingham, with ‘the ultimate aim of breaking down borders, that only serve to divide us’. Admirable stuff, especially against the backdrop of an increasingly divisive small and big ‘p’ political mindset about Britain’s place in the wider European community.

Indeed, it seems that BE FESTIVAL has been somewhat ironically placed in the calendar over the past few years – with the regular July event being wrapped around some pretty pertinent political bluster since it all went a little sour back in 2016. But then irony knows no bounds in Whitehall, and I suspect there’s one erstwhile Secretary of Sate for Culture who’s invite might arguably get lost in the post these days.

But BE FESTIVAL is not about politics or propaganda (not directly, at least) – it is a celebration of theatre, a cultural event for Birmingham to be proud of as it opens its doors to a programme of European productions in an annual showcase event. Something that the second city was curiously lacking.

As BE FESTIVAL founders, Aguilar and Oyarzun, told Birmingham Review back in 2017, when they first came to explore Birmingham’s cultural landscape: “…we asked people ‘so when is the Theatre Festival happening? The International Theatre Festival?’ Assuming there was one. And they said ‘no, there’s no theatre festival. There’s a brilliant performance festival, there are festivals of music, festivals of cinema, but there’s no theatre festival.’ We were kind of a bit surprised by that really.” And so BE FESTIVAL was born… cue mood music, dramatic lighting and a shot of an ink stained napkin.

So, what’s on at BE FESTIVAL 2019? Too much to cover in its entirety, but with up to three performances each night ‘transforming the rarely seen backstage areas into a lively festival hub’, we’ve cherry picked a few from the overall programme that looked particularly exciting to us.

On Tuesday 2nd July, as part of the opening day for BE FESTIVAL 2019, last year’s first prize winner – BE FESTIVAL issues awards to the best performers and productions from each’s year’s line-up – Tom Cassani (UK) performs his latest piece of trickery and deception, I Promise You That Tonight. Challenging ‘those who make extraordinary claims’, Cassini will ‘proselytize, pedal and preach the importance of remaining wary’ about anyone who’s promises seem just that little too good to be true.

Wednesday 3rd July sees some adventurous physical theatre, as Maxime Dautremont and Foucauld Falguerolles (Belgium) ‘present amazing feats of acrobatics amongst axe throwing and Chinese pole technique’ in their show One Shot. Followed by choreographer Paula Rosolen’s (Germany) exploration of ‘what now remains of ‘punk’’ – using dance to dig into the ‘visual language’ of the punk movement in PUNK‽

On Thursday 4th July, Ça Marche (Catalonia / Spain) ask ‘how can we dream the best future for our world?’ in their show Silence – answering through the minds of children, ‘free of inhibitions, untainted by imagined reason or ethics.’ Heady stuff… there’s also ‘improvised chaos, snow and giant blow up monsters.’ Then on Friday 5th July, Anna Biczok (Hungary) ‘mixes memories, imagination, and changes in perspective’ to explore what it means to truly live in the moment – in her solo lecture performance titled, Precedents to a Potential Future.

As part of the final day at BE FESTIVAL 2019, on Saturday 6th July, the Barcelona based theatre company La Conquesta del Pol Sud (Spain) perform A Land Full of Heroes – a play co-produced by University of Birmingham, that follows the life of Romanian writer Carmen-Francesca Banciu as she ‘remembers her life-changing trip to Berlin in 1990, a year after the fall of the wall and off the back of the Romanian revolution in Bucharest’, asking ‘was Berlin the mirage of a new European vision?’

Then during the Saturday evening’s main programme, Marco D’Agostin (Italy) presents Avalanche – an award winning production where the two protaganists are ‘locked together in the aftermath of Cyclops’s gaze’ and dance to ‘fill their new blasted world with meaning’ in a show that is ‘desperately piecing together meaning in search of an outcome.’

And that’s, quite lietrally, not even half of it – click here for the full festival line up. Birmingham Review will also be publishing updates from each night of the BE FESTIVAL 2019, so watch this space for gentle nudges to go and check the programme out for yourself.

BE FESTIVAL 2019 – Official Trailer

BE FESTIVAL runs daily at the Birmingham REP from Tuesday 2nd July to Saturday 6th July. For direct festival information, including a full line up and links to online ticket sales, visit www.befestival.org/festival

For more on the wider BE FESTIVAL activity, outside of the 2019 programme, visit www.befestival.org 

For more from the Birmingham REP, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

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