Now in its 17th year, this year’s Europe Theatre Prize was held in Saint Petersburg earlier this month. Ian Herbert reports on the winners
The absentee winners from the week of events that marked this year’s 17th Europe Theatre Prize ceremony in Russia were almost as newsworthy as those who were present.
Bringing the prize back to Saint Petersburg (it was awarded there to Peter Stein in 2011) meant the city could show off not only its wealth of well-appointed theatres, but the work of some of its directors who have previously been recipients of European awards. Lev Dodin, Europe Prize winner in 2001, offered his personal view of Hamlet, while Andrey Moguchi, a winner of the New Realities Prize in 2001 and now director of the city’s Bolshoi Theatre, gave no fewer than three different examples of his work.
There were six winners this year of the New Realities Prize. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui , Sadler’s Wells  associate director, brought his own company in the Olivier-winning Puz/zle . Cirkus Cirkor from Sweden showed extracts from its recent work Limits – it couldn’t show it all since most of its set and costumes were on the way back from Japan.
France’s Julien Gosselin was a no-show for the good reason that his latest show was opening that week in Paris. Tiago Rodrigues from Portugal made up by bringing three shows, including this year’s Avignon festival hit Sopro, which has as its leading character a theatre’s prompter. Jan Klata from Poland, always controversial, was there with his last production for the Stary Theatre, Krakow, an angry, topical version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.
The Europe Theatre Prize itself went to Valery Fokin, director of the city’s Alexandrinsky Theatre and for many years a potent force in the Russian theatre scene, both in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Being on home ground meant he could show recent work of a technical complexity that might make it more difficult to present elsewhere.
His Schweik. The Comeback, a sour update for today’s bitter world of the Czech anti-war classic, made full use of his theatre’s stage machinery. For the week’s concluding gala he presented his recreation of a historic masterpiece, Vsevolod Meyerhold’s Masquerade, the last (and most spectacularly expensive) production of the Alexandrinsky at the tsar’s own theatre before the revolution a century ago. Scenery and costumes from that show formed the background to the award ceremony itself.
The Europe Prize’s first notable absentee was Spain’s actor/director Nuria Espert, who was unable to collect her special award because she had fallen at the dress rehearsal of her latest production and broken her wrist. Next was New Realities’ sixth winner, Milo Rau, artistic director of NTGent, who had “visa difficulties” meaning he was allowed to come only at the very last minute, when it was impossible to travel. Jan Klata dedicated his award to Rau and one other major absentee.
Kirill Serebrennikov should have received his New Realities Prize at the last event, in Rome in 2017, but the Russian director was under house arrest in Moscow on charges of embezzlement that are widely believed to be trumped up. Rau’s moving message of support for Serebrennikov, who is on trial in Moscow, was read out in place of a speech for his award, a theme continued by Lev Dodin in his speech of commendation for the evening’s main winner. Fokin was generous enough to add his own applause to a reaction that long echoed around his theatre.