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The Comedy of Errors

Giles Croft on NEAT 11 Festival

26 May 11 interview: Adrian Bhagat
photos: David Baird

Another huge boost to the local arts scene takes place this summer with the launch of the Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival, a collaboration between the big local venues showcasing top-line performances from around the continent. Festival artistic director Giles Croft explains all…

So what’s the deal with NEAT 11?
The idea behind the festival is to show Nottingham as a truly European city. We wanted to bring major European artists here and place them alongside Nottingham-based artists and companies to demonstrate that the work of the city is of national and international importance. We’ve been a member of the European Theatre Convention for ten years and they hold a general assembly and accompanying festival every year at different member theatres. We wanted to host the assembly eight years ago, but we couldn’t find the partnerships within the city that we needed. We revisited the idea recently and found that now people here wanted to work together.

Why’s that?
The change came about for a number of reasons. Firstly, the cultural offer in the city is more coherent than it was then – you have the New Art Exchange, Contemporary, Galleries of Justice, an interesting programme of international and local work at the Lakeside and a change in management at the Royal Centre. With that coherence, there is a willingness to cooperate, and so the Arts Council and the City Council were more supportive this time.

What’s your role in the festival?
As artistic director, I programmed the work and had to come up with the philosophy of the festival. Part of the job was to find work that was suitable for the different performance spaces. For example, seeing that the New Art Exchange had a Palestinian exhibition, we programmed The Gaza Mono-Logues about the work of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. We also have a new piece called The Crossing about African people migrating to Europe which is also perfect for the NAE. On the other hand, performance artists like Gob Squad, Reckless Sleepers and Gabriele Reuter are absolutely right for Nottingham  Contemporary. We’ve got a courtroom comedy show called Court In The Act!, which is perfect for the Galleries of Justice.


We understand that it’s been a really difficult festival to programme, for many reasons…
There were three major events: Ukranian writer Anna Yablonskaya was coming over here to take part in the reading of her play The Irons, but she was killed in a suicide bombing in Moscow airport. That knocked everyone back a bit, but we are carrying on and her husband is coming over to participate in the reading. A Belarusian company were due to perform at the Lakeside, but whilst they were at the Hong Kong festival their government withdrew their visas and passports – so none of them can go back home and they are suddenly stateless. The company is dispersed around the world, so they had to withdraw as they couldn’t guarantee they could perform. The other terrible event was the murder of Juliano Mer-Kharmis who runs the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. We are still showing his film, Arna’s Children, about the work his theatre group does with young Palestinians. He had emailed to say he couldn’t come to the festival because his wife was having twins, and soon after he was murdered because of the work he did.

Your programming definitely seems to be weighted towards work from global flashpoint areas.
With people here questioning the value of the arts, we wanted to show the role that the arts play in society. We decided to look at work that was made under extreme circumstances, which is why we wanted to include companies from Palestine, Belarus, Kosovo, Serbia, Ukraine and so on. These are places where the arts are fantastically important. The fact that people can suffer this much for putting on a play serves to reinforce the importance of the work.

As artistic director of the Playhouse, what do you think of the government cuts to arts funding?
It’s clear that it isn’t economic to make those cuts: for every pound you invest in the arts you make six or seven back. We will be weaker culturally, but politically I can see why they made that choice. I don’t blame the Arts Council, who have been quite sensible in their approach to a very difficult situation, but there have been some very odd choices about who loses funding that I don’t understand, like Shared Experience, a company with whom we’ve done a lot of work. The Playhouse has been served comparatively well, which is a vote of confidence in our work, although we will have to make some adjustments.

There have already been serious repercussions locally, haven’t there?
There have been some real losses locally. The Theatre Writing Partnership were an important part of the delivery of the festival, but they have lost their funding. That will be a big loss for the region. We’ll be talking to them about whether there’s a way we can ensure the really good work they’ve started can be continued.

Finally, what will hosting this festival mean to Nottingham?
It’s a chance to show the extraordinary work that’s generated in the city. The festival also gives the people of Nottingham the chance to see work they wouldn’t be able to see any other way. For two weeks the city will be alive with great work, some of it challenging, some of it quite accessible.

Nottingham European Arts & Theatre Festival, 26 May-12 June, various locations.

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