Artūras Areima, his The Physicists and Under Ice

APAC info 2019 09 03
Artūras Areima in Avignon Festival OFF.
Artūras Areima in Avignon Festival OFF.

In its Lithuanian programme, the theatre festival Sirenos is going to introduce 37-year-old director Artūras Areima and his most recent performance The Physicists based on the play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Creator of provocative theatre Areima is concerned with what kind of world he lives in and, thus, with the help of contemporary theatre language, the director does not allow the audience to calm down or relax and has once stated that “theatre is not a deckchair.”  Artūras Areima, a pupil of Rimas Tuminas, is known world-wide as the author of such performances as Under Ice based on the play by Falk Richter and Hamletmachine based on the play by Heiner Müller. The Artūras Areima Theatre (AAT) established together with these performances has toured various foreign festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Avignon Festival Off and has visited various cities in France, Germany, Russia and South Korea.

Artūras Areima staged the performance The Physicists in the Panevėžys Juozas Miltinis Drama Theatre founded  in 1940 by director Juozas Miltinis (1907-1994), who studied in Paris, became a significant phenomenon of Lithuanian theatre and whose pupils-actors have been highly favoured by various film directors. After Miltinis' death, the artistic energy of Panevėžys theatre started fading; however, the theatre named after its founder hasn't given up - the theatre company still includes several actors educated by Miltinis in the ranks of its young artists.

Recently, the Panevėžys Juozas Miltinis Drama Theatre has been run by young theatre people who grew up in this theatre. They have been inviting representatives of the young generation of Lithuanian directors for their repertoire. The Physicists has been the third performance by Artūras Areima staged in Panevėžys. An interesting fact is that the same work by the Swiss playwright about the scientists who deliberately chose to live in a madhouse was also staged in the same theatre by Juozas Miltinis more than half a century ago. The exhibition of the photographs from the performance by Miltinis was arranged in the theatre before the opening night of the performance by Areima.

Artūras Areima transfers the action in The Physicists from a symbolic suburban villa “The Cherry Orchard” to the theatre - the sanatorium of Juozas Miltinis. All the actors in the performance become patients and only actress Ligita Kondrotaitė is given the role of a doctor-psychiatrist. In this new work, all characters are referred to by their real names rather than fictitious ones created by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Actor Albinas Kėleris embodies Albinas Kėleris and his professional biography has also become part of the performance. “I'm working with these people, they are here, and they have their stories,” Artūras Areima claims, “actors live in theatre and are ill with 'theatre' disease.”

Even though the stagings by Areima and Miltinis are separated by five decades, certain similarities in thinking of both directors can be observed. “Every artist is crazy. From the perspective of normal people,” Juozas Miltinis used to say during the rehearsals of The Physicists. In the opinion of Areima, “If we look at theatre from aside, during the rehearsals it can really resemble a mental hospital. Even I sometimes feel strange when I ask to do stupid things and actors do that.”

Areima calls his most recent work a comedy. On the stage, he creates an impressive and joyful event, whereas his managed actors just play the game of The Physicists. Yet entertainment is not the final aim of this artist. “The game encourages thinking,” the director says. “I want the audience to speak about their experiences and pose questions about themselves rather than just evaluate the performance when they leave this theatrical world.” This is one of the reasons why the “crazy” actors of the Juozas Miltinis Drama Theatre urge spectators to take part in the stage game during the performance.

When staging The Physicists, Artūras Areima reflects on the responsibility of man and theatricality of the world. “In this play, global meaninglessness is key. People keep trying to do something good but they fail. We try to protect the nature, we sort the garbage out, and yet we are still incapable of reducing waste. In this context, I'm considering whether moral responsibility still exists, whether it is true and not fake.”

After the premiere, theatre reviewer Jūratė Visockaitė wrote in the cultural weekly Literatūra ir menas that the performance The Physicists seemed boring, unimaginative and humourless, whereas the audience started “applauding impatiently” during the action and tried to boo the new performance. The critic admits that, “there is no contact, response or mockery whatsoever in terms of the patients residing in this madhouse, in terms of more or less loved actors or Albinas Kėleris lying uncomfortably in short trousers on the catwalk. /.../ The Dürrenmattian text is crumbling, does not spread from the stage and does not, for the life of me, reach my ears. And yet, my dear loyal and disappointed spectators of the Panevėžys Drama Theatre, this is better than what it was! You've participated in a painful session of self-identification, after which the work continues.”

The performance Under Ice staged by Artūras Areima in 2015 based on the play by Falk Richter is regarded as his most successful work. Under Ice has been shown over 30 times in various international theatre festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe, Avignon Off, theatre festival Mythos in Rennes and Le Havre (France). In September, the performance will be shown 4 times in the Beijing Fringe Festival (China). Under Ice has also been invited to Armenia and South Korea.

Following the tour of Under Ice in France, several enthusiastic reviews were published. In the portal Eleonor Zastavia claimed that the work by Areima, “is a biting satire mocking not only the business world but also the helplessness of politics, cultural poverty, absurd of consumerism and inferiority of existence. The performance reveals well-thought-out and original angles of 'attack' in terms of acting, set design, visual and audio solutions. The ideas are mesmerising, the actors break the standards, the text is offensive to shock us, to tell the truth about the absurdity of the system to our faces. And all of that has been created masterfully, artistically, with the sense of shocking aesthetics.”

The performance Under Ice by Artūras Areima presented in the programme of 2016 Edinburgh Fringe received not only a lot of positive reviews from theatre critics and the audience but also attracted the attention of owner of the Summerhall Art Centre Robert McDowell. Together with the other jury members, the art curator granted the Jawbone Award to the creators of Under Ice for the most uncompromising performance at the Fringe Festival.

This season, the Artūras Areima Theatre (AAT) is going to settle in its new home located not in the centre of Vilnius, where the majority of theatres function, but in a more distant district of Baltupiai. This year AAT is going to prepare two premieres based on the works by Falk Richter, i.e. Electronic City and Nothing Hurts. The performance Hamletmachine is going to tour Berlin and Aarhus (Denmark). In 2020, AAT is going to participate in the Avignon Off with the performance Boiling Temperature 5425 based on the play by young Lithuanian dramatist Virginija Rimkaitė.