Venue uses penis to fight smoking ban
CANADA/MONTREAL A Montreal venue is urging other theatres to fight stringent local anti-smoking regulations after complaining that the city’s inspectors objected to a herbal fake cigarette lit on stage, but took no issue with its actor in a giant penis costume, in a French-language version of Conversations With My Penis. Marc Gourdeau, director of Theatre Premier Acte, sees a strong case for freedom of artistic expression. His theatre faces a $500 fine plus a further $250 for the actor who lit up. The play was written by New Zealander Dean Hewison – the cigarette was dropped for the run, although Gourdeau is considering challenging the fine. premieracte.ca 
Capitals of Culture get a kick start
EUROPEAN UNION As of January 1 2019, Plovdiv in Bulgaria and Italy’s Matera take on the mantle of European Capital of Culture  for the coming year. Under the slogan ‘Together’, Plovdiv has more than 300 projects planned, launched at its opening event on January 11-13. Matera’s programme takes the slogan ‘Open Future’, with a focus on social and cultural inclusion and collaborative innovation. With its opening event on January 19-20, Matera will also stage the first open-air performance of Pietro Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria Rusticana in cooperation with Teatro Di San Carlo, as well as 27 projects developed with local creative communities and partners from across Europe. bit.ly/EUcapitalofculture 
Comedie-Francaise targeted in protests
FRANCE/PARIS Theatres once again became a part of the narrative of France’s national protests, as with the Nuit Debout movement that threatened to paralyse the country in 2016. This time it was the prestigious Comedie-Francaise in Paris that was targeted when hundreds of sans papiers – undocumented migrants – staged a flash mob at the theatre on the International Day of Migrants. Up to 500 tried to force their way in to interrupt a production of Victor Hugo’s Lucrezia Borgia in order to get the theatre’s general director Eric Ruf to act as intermediary with interior minister Christophe Castaner in protest over deportations caused by a recent anti-immigration bill.
Sleep No More breaks records in China
CHINA/SHANGHAI Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More  has gone into China’s record books by becoming Shanghai’s second longest-running theatre show. The immersive retelling of Macbeth opened on December 14, 2016 after a successful run in New York, and is now approaching the 200,000 ticket mark. A co-production by Punchdrunk International with Chinese company SMG Live, the 1930s noir-styled show runs at a bespoke five-storey venue the McKinnon Hotel. punchdrunk.org.uk 
Fears for trans play under new president
BRAZIL The inauguration on January 1 in Brazil of right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, known for his anti-minorities views, makes it unlikely that the Brazilian version of The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven will be put on for the foreseeable future, Scottish writer Jo Clifford has said. The solo play, which imagines Jesus as a trans woman, has toured the country since its premiere in Belo Horizonte 2016, but it has been subject to regular censorship and violence including death threats. The authorities in Rio de Janeiro, where Bolsonaro was the top congressman, sought to ban it. Translated and directed by Natalia Mallo, the play stars trans performer Renata Carvalho, in a country where almost 100 transgender people were killed last year.
Casting announced for Sweeney Todd
PHILIPPINES/MANILA Lea Salonga will co-star with fellow Filipino and rock icon Jett Pangan in a new production of Sweeney Todd, with this production Manila continues to emerge as a major global hub for musicals. Salonga, a Tony and Olivier winner, will play Mrs Lovett to Pangan’s Sweeney Todd. The Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical is directed by Bobby Garcia, artistic director of production company Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group. The show opens in October at the Theatre at Solaire in the Philippines’ capital as part of Atlantis’ 20th-anniversary season. The show is also celebrating 40 years since opening on Broadway.
The International section is edited by Nick Awde. Contact email: email@example.com