Jan Lauwers is in a good mood: “The premiere in Barcelona was very good, I was surprised by the intensity of the public’s response. It is something that has been confirmed in the performances we have done in Europe. Now in Madrid we are starting the great tour of the show and I’m very happy. I’m a happy man. ” The director of the Belgian company Needcompany opens this September 23 in Madrid Billy’s Violence in the Naves del Español de Matadero Madrid. Tickets sold out to see this master of the scene and his most violent version of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
“In the public theater we do miracles and we move forward thanks to the officials”
What kind of Shakespeare have you edited?
Every four years in our company we put on a Shakespeare play. Whenever we do, we learn but we also end up with the feeling of having failed. Shakespeare is too big for the scene. In this case, I had the crazy idea of doing all the bardic tragedies in one night. I started to rewrite them but I couldn’t, I failed. Victor, my son, who knows the author well, has been writing for a year and what he has achieved is impressive. His point of view is radical. It looks like a Beckett play. He has chosen the moments of those tragedies that bring us closer to how Shakespeare can be understood today: the #metoo, identity crises, immigration, all of that is in his tragedies.
Could you explain better what that success is like?
The entire historical context has been left out. There are ten chapters and each one has the name of a woman. It is not Antony and Cleopatra is Cleopatra, it is not Othello it is Desdemona. The female characters become the main ones. Reading Shakespeare’s plays you can come to the conclusion that he is not respectful of women, that he is even racist. We defend a different approach to his works. We do not want to be iconoclasts or destroy Shakespeare, what we want is to show that he can be read in another way and that this new reading can be inspiring.
The previous works of the company on this author, Julius Caesar, Macbeth or The Lear King, they were always rewrites of the text. This montage is a new work. I give an example: in Shakespeare Othello is manipulated by Iago and that is why he kills Desdemona. Victor eliminates Iago. Othello is the only one responsible, the one who begins to suspect his wife and who decides to murder her. You are no longer talking about political situations, intrigues, but about the story of a woman who is murdered by her jealous husband, you are talking about domestic violence, of men beating up their wives at home.
Reading Shakespeare’s plays, you can come to the conclusion that he is not respectful of women, that he is even racist. We defend a different approach to your works
Isn’t it then a 16th century violence?
The violence of Shakespeare’s plays is the same violence of today. What we are doing to immigrants, what is happening in Afghanistan … There are even more slaves today than in the 16th century and Europe is not saved. Man does not learn from history. That is why it is important to ride Shakespeare: learn from history and relate it to our present. Watch Titus Andronicus and at the same time open the newspaper and read the Black Lives Matter problem.
A Shakespeare in Spanish that is also co-produced by the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, the Grec Festival in Barcelona and the Central Theater in Seville, the city where the play will arrive this November. How did the project come about?
I have a special relationship with this country. I started working here when I was very young, in the eighties. And I always liked the Spanish actor. Moreover, I had been thinking for years about making a Shakespeare with Spanish actors, I thought that the way of acting here could make a Shakespeare with his feet on the ground, more earthly. And speaking of this with Xavier Alberti, who was the director of the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, he suggested that I try it. It’s a long dream come true.
It has three Spanish actors: Gonzalo Cunill (of Argentine origin), Juan Navarro and Nao Albet, could you tell us about your work?
When you work in different parts of the world you see very disparate cultures but this is not relevant to acting. What I need in the actor is a special skill on stage. All three are very natural actors. We call it a ‘meta-level’ of action. Gonzalo can be both him and King Lear. What a common actor does is reproduce the work he has done in rehearsals. What Juan, Nao and Gonzalo do is produce. That is the difference between the actor and the performer. Every night it occurs, every night is an adventure. I leave you very free, with the years more and more. Work with free spirits. The opposite of an authoritarian leadership.
This Wednesday we learned that the trial of Jan Fabre, director of one of the most important companies in his country, already has a date. It will be on March 22 next year. He is accused, by twelve interpreters from his own company, of sexual harassment and assault. The prosecution asks for 5 years in prison. The dancers and actresses who accuse him published in 2018, under the #metoo movement, a long and chilling letter in which it is related how Fabre demanded to have sex if they wanted to do a solo with him, photo sessions with drugs through or humiliation processes constant. Actresses as respected and loved in Europe as the Icelandic Erna Ómarsdóttir signed and led the protest. What do you think of all this?
I don’t want to talk about Jan Fabre. I do not want to make public judgments about his person. This does not have to become a public trial. Due to the seriousness of what is being dealt with, it has to be done with discretion. But I do think that what happened is a disgrace and that we have to learn from it. Sexual harassment in the theater has to be expelled. The creation processes rely heavily on privacy. If you work a sexual scene on stage, you should not leave it. You have to be very careful.
I hope that the women who have accused Jan Fabre find a good and fair way out of all this
I imagine that this has had to affect the entire Belgian scene, including one of Fabre’s interpreters who accuses him today, Louise Peterhoff, later she was an actress in one of his most appreciated productions in this country, Isabella’s room.
Of course it has affected us, our company has spoken and discussed it indoors. And I hope that the women who have accused Fabre find a good and fair way out of all this. But we have to be careful how this affects the Belgian scene. Right now in Belgium there is a public voice with a very strong position, and not very measured, on the subject, the vision that one has on the theater has become very black. And we have to defend the theater. The theater is beauty. We have to learn from what has happened and not allow it anymore. But this does not mean that we should change the way we work. Our company believes in its way of working and takes care in all its processes. On Billy’s Violence we have worked as always. I hope this whole thing doesn’t change the way I work on stage. There is a big difference between art, what happens on stage, and what happens off stage. Make no mistake about it, that can be dangerous. It’s not a good idea.
Many, many. The one that is already underway is the second part of Billy’s Violence. Victor is already writing a play on Shakespearean comedies. We already have a title: Billy’s joy. It will be released next year. Until then we have a huge tour. After the pandemic it is being crazy.