Birutė Mar’s ANTIGONE’s success at one of Egypt’s biggest theatre festivals

The Solo Theatre team has returned from the 30th edition of one of the most important theatre forums in the Arab world, the International Festival of Experimental Theatre in Cairo, Egypt, which took place from 1-8 September 2023. According to the organisers, of the 88 foreign productions that applied to the festival, 8 were selected for the programme, including the Lithuanian production “Antigone”, based on the tragedy by Sophocles by director and actress Birutė Mar. The festival also presented ten plays from Arab countries.

The festival was also attended by Nodar Dumbadze’s Youth Theatre from Tbilisi, which is already well known in Lithuania (this year it visited the international theatre festival “Jėga” in Alytus), which presented a puppet show for adults called “Othello”. The winner of the festival for the best director was Gia Margania, the director of this production. A number of Arab theatre-makers were also awarded.

Despite the 45 degree heat during the festival week, the performances took place in Cairo’s packed theatres. “Antigone had the special honour of being performed twice in one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the world, the Cairo Opera House’s Little Hall, which can seat 400 people.

Actress and director Birutė Mar shares her impressions of the festival: “The trip to Egypt was a real adventure. Usually at European festivals we already know each other, but here we have completely new faces, names, colleagues, most of them from Arab countries we have not discovered yet. How will they receive and experience a performance in Lithuanian ( although with English subtitles)? How will they perceive a theatrical language that is different from their usual one? And the Arab audience is not as polite as in Lithuania – if they are bored, they don’t switch off their mobile phones, they grumble, they leave the auditorium. So before “Antigone” I was ready for anything… But during both performances there was a deafening silence in the hall – this was the greatest “Arab gift” and reward.

Birutė Mar’s “Antigone”, in which the actress alone embodies the six characters of Sophocles’ tragedy (the spectacle was created and previously performed on the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre’s stage), has been successfully touring international theatre festivals for the past two decades and has won numerous awards. Egypt is the twenty-second country visited by this production. The costumes for “Antigone” were designed by Jolanta Rimkutė, the composer – Antanas Kučinskas, the video director – Andrius Jakučionis.

The New Performance “AGATHA” by Solo Theatre is a Piece of Music

On the 7th September, Solo Theatre presented the performance based on Marguerite Duras’ play “AGATHA” (translated by Jurga Vile from French language) which was the premiere of this season. The team included: director Birute Mar, set designer Indre Pacesaite, video artist Karolis Bratkauskas, visual technician Audrius Jankauskas. Performed by the actors Birute Mar and Andrius Bialobzeskis as well as the composer and pianist Giedrius Karaliunas plays live music.

According to the director Birute Mar, she discovered the play “AGATHA” a long time ago, taking an interest in the personality of the French writer Marguerite Duras: “Once upon a time there was such a thing in my life called “The Period of Duras” as I read everything that this writer has published as well as I found other books in English, Lithuanian or Russian. Inspired by her work, I started learning French, and then I saw strange poetic films created by M. Duras herself, which did not seem to fit into any format. I have also discovered her unknown autobiographical play “Agatha” in which I was fascinated by the melody of M. Duras’ speech, the intensity of thought, the “exploding” emotion hiding behind the words.”

Almost a couple of decades ago, the mono-performance “Lover” by Birute Mar was created. The production has travelled to over twenty countries and it is still being performed by the actress. “Agatha” was also waiting its turn: a decade ago, the director offered to translate this play to her friend Jurga Vile: “I really wanted “Agatha” on the stage in Lithuanian language, although I doubted that it would be any popular in Lithuania as it is unusual to hear a French word, or even literary theatre, in which characters constantly talk about what they feel. After all, K. Stanislavski taught that feelings need to be “hidden” behind the action. And in this play, the characters Agatha and her brother talk to each other about their feelings for more than an hour with no apparent action. No storyline development. So, for many, this play may seem quite anti-scenic. Yet I find it interesting. It’s like writing a piece of music about the memories of a brother and sister, and their forbidden love.

I think this production will be something between music and theatre: the thoughts and feelings of the heroes are conveyed by the sounds of the piano, the words and the images of the changing sea on the screen. The sea symbolises a beloved verse of M. Duras, the writer loved to watch the sea, hearing it in her films, her texts, diaries, reflections… There seems to be no action but the intensity is recognized through the poetry of M. Duras. Personally, “AGATHA” is like swimming in the sounds, memories, feelings just like at sea.”