The Bitola Shakespeare Festival is extending the bold intercultural experiment of last year’s Globe-to-Globe Festival in London. As part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Globe-to-Globe launched a planetary Shakespeare project by inviting 37 companies from around the world to perform the playwright’s works in their home languages.
The Bitola Festival’s decision to open with a co-production of Romeo and Juliet by the National Theatre of Macedonia, Skopje, and the Vera Kommisazhevskaya Theatre, St Petersburg promises a rewarding continuation of Globe-to-Globe’s landmark theatrical exchange.
The Festival is reprising the Globe-to-Globe’s innovative and much-praised cycle of three Henry VI plays by the National Theatre of Serbia, Belgrade, Tirana’s National Theatre of Albania, and the National Theatre of Bitola. But here they will be staged before local and regional audiences in Bitola, Macedonia’s second-largest city, and close to Ohrid, a natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like other productions in the Festival, the Henry VI cycle will be performed in a variety of playing spaces — from an open-air Roman amphitheatre to larger indoor stages to more intimate venues. Macedonian contexts of performance and reception should create interesting new physical and interpretive perspectives on the productions.
Festival audiences will be able to gauge the strengths and limits of Shakespeare’s openness to artistic appropriation by non-English-speaking stage traditions — for example in Nina Sallinen’s new Finnish adaptation Poor, Poor Lear. By contrast, the English-speaking production of The Tempest by Santa Barbara’s Lit Moon Theatre Company will explore the dynamics of a Western postcolonial fable in a post-Soviet setting.
The closing performance of Richard III by the National Theatre of China, Beijing, will give audiences a chance to visualize the critically acclaimed Globe-to-Globe production in a new way. Last year the anticipated classical Chinese costumes and properties accidentally failed to reach Shakespeare’s Globe in time. With them included, this year’s production will enrich the aesthetic and cultural dialogue between Asian and Western Shakespeares which NTC actors performed so enthrallingly in plain costumes on a bare stage.
Another of the many revelations of the 2012 Globe-to-Globe Festival was watching Shakespeare performed in non-English languages before audiences drawn partly from London’s diverse linguistic and diasporic communities. Globe-to-Globe celebrated London’s multicultural identity within the United Kingdom’s shifting geo-political landscape. At the same time, it offered international recognition to companies from around the world, and stimulated plans for future co-operative ventures like this year’s Festival in Bitola.
The Bitola Festival gives the relatively young Republic of Macedonia a chance to showcase its cultural vibrancy as well as its history as a crossroads between East and West (whose ancestry Shakespeare recognized in his references to Alexander of Macedon in Henry V and Hamlet). Macedonians are embracing the opportunity to see their modern national identity illuminated through encounters with the world’s most multicultural playwright.
The Bitola Festival is set to offer an exciting new instalment in global Shakespeare.
For video clips of some of the productions being brought to Bitola, see the Global Shakespeares website: