BULGAKOV IN AVIGNON

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This Season: for her pick of the festivals, Sheila Johnston chooses Provence and Simon McBurney's latest adaptation...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine July/August 2012

The Avignon Theatre Festival is often said to be like Edinburgh, only with sun and better food. Not according to Simon McBurney, the actor, director and founder of Complicite theatre company. "The origins of Edinburgh are linked to a pomp and ceremony – the Tattoo in the Castle," he says. "Whereas in Avignon the schism of the Catholic church took place and it was a centre of the Resistance during the war. So it is a highly symbolic act to create something there."

McBurney is re-creating his adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s subversive novel "The Master and Margarita", seen this spring at the Barbican. He expects a sophisticated reception. "In English we call people who go to the theatre the 'audience', the people who listen," he notes. "In France, they call them the 'spectateurs'. Visual literacy there is astonishingly high, much higher than in Britain."

He also helped shape Avignon’s entire programme as this year's associate artist. "Most international festivals rely on supermarket shopping: ‘I'll have half a pound of Robert Wilson and a kilo of whatever’s trendy.’ The Avignon Festival is built out of an extended conversation with an artist. Each one is very individualised." And in contrast to Edinburgh, it has the balmy Provençal climate. "Shows start at 10pm, you bring blankets for when it gets cold or windy, you’re sitting under the stars and there’s a wonderful atmosphere. Last year one piece began at four in the morning and people were dancing in the dark as the  sun came up."

Avignon Festival July 7th to 28th

Sheila Johnston writes for theartsdesk and for 10 years was a film critic on the Independent