Simon McBurney says Avignon is more than “an international theatre supermarket”

Matt Trueman

Simon McBurney, artistic director of Complicite, is to become the Avignon Festival’s first British associate artist next month.

This year’s event, the 66th since it was founded in 1947, also includes one of the largest British contingents in the festival’s history. It also features work by Forced Entertainment, 1927 and director Katie Mitchell, alongside internationally acclaimed artists including Thomas Ostermeier, Christoph Marthaler and Jérôme Bel.

Speaking at the Institut Francais in Kensington last night, the festival’s co-director Vincent Baudriller explained that he had been trying to persuade McBurney to helm the festival for eight years. “We broke the Channel this year. We have a lot of new collaborations with the UK,” he added.

McBurney described the opportunity as an honour and described the event as “a festival of dialogue.”

He continued: “An enormous reason for my going there is the direction of Hortense Archambault and Vincent Baudriller, because they have created a festival that is not just an international theatre supermarket.”

Complicite’s staging of The Master and Margarita, seen at the Barbican Centre in March, will headline the programme, with eight performances at the world famous Palais des Papes, a 2,000 seat arena in a vast 14th Century courtyard. “I was very excited by the idea of Pontius Pilate centre stage in the Pope’s Palace,” said McBurney.

The company will also oversee two readings of John Berger’s writing, with McBurney and Juliette Binoche joining the author to read From A to X, and another reading of Lying Down to Sleep.

Forced Entertainment will show The Coming Storm, which receives its UK premiere at Battersea Arts Centre next week, and the improvised performance-piece Tomorrow’s Parties. 1927 will perform The Animal and the Children Took to the Streets, while Mitchell presents two pieces: her collaboration with Stephen Emmott, Ten Billion, and Die Ringe Des Saturn, which premiered in Cologne last month.

Despite the extensive international records of all the British artists involved, only Mitchell has shown work in Avignon previously. Her German language production of Miss Julie, co-directed with Leo Warner for the Schabuhne, played there last year.

This year’s festival runs between July 7 and 28 and includes over 300 performances of 45 productions.

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