The new prodigy of European theater is Australian. Although, in fact, Simon Stone was born in Basel 34 years ago. It was the beginning of a wandering childhood, full of comings and goings between the old world and the antipodes, because of the professional roaming of their parents, senior scientists with positions in universities on both continents. In this gap between time zones grew this young man with sandy mane of surfer and that look of pain that some poets have. And so he continues to live: one week in Amsterdam and the next in London; a curtain opens in Paris while another closes on Broadway. Since a year ago, his base of operations is in Vienna, the city of his sentimental partner, where he now represents a new assembly, Hotel Strindberg, in the second seat of the Burgtheater, an old imperial theater where the most famous detractors of bourgeois morality, from Thomas Bernhard to Elfriede Jelinek, have premiered their texts.
Outside night, last Sunday. Crossing the luminous canopy that gives access to the stalls, a bohemian and left bourgeoisie is accommodated in a room covered with red velvet. It is about observing, for about four hours, the interior of a building full of tenants inspired by the characters of Strindberg, as in a sitcom neighborhood passed through the sieve of Scandinavian misanthropy. The surprise is that in the stalls sits an infrequent number of twenty-somethings. "When the theater talks about life and contemporary issues, young people come," Stone replies two days later, in a cafe attached to the majestic theater's headquarters, where this confessed Stakhanovist rehearses his next show.
The classics are his specialty. To date, Stone has directed works by Ibsen, Séneca, Brecht, Chéjov, Wedekind or Lorca, although none of them can be considered an adaptation. Their shows speak of ordinary characters that are transformed, almost always in spite of themselves, into prototypes of classical theater. In 2016, its successful Yerma at the Young Vic in London was starring a trend journalist-former teen star Billie Piper-turned into a contemporary version of the Lorca character before his inability to conceive, despite living in a very different society on paper rural Andalusia of another century. Next Friday, the premiere of Medea in the Teatros del Canal de Madrid will provide another example. Unlike the character of Euripides, his protagonist is named Anna and is as inspired by the tragic heroine as in the event that starred a US doctor in 1995, when he set fire to his house with his two children inside.
"The starting point of my projects is to ask myself how it is possible for someone to experience something as extreme as what these classic figures experienced," explains Stone. His works seem to imply that we are nothing more than walking archetypes with identical destinies to those of our ancestors. "It's not a very popular opinion, but yes," he smiles. "Humanity is a blessing and a curse. It makes us repeat the same mistakes over and over again, as if something in our genetic code forces us to do it. Resorting to mythology allows me to express that idea, but all part of a very contemporary place. " Mentioning Freud, whose home is just around the corner, almost gives notice. "It's one of my biggest inspirations. Not because of his treatment of women, which is problematic, but because he considered that a multitude of Oedipus and Electras continues to walk our streets. "
"When the works talk about life and contemporary issues, young people come"
Stone's father died when he was 12, after suffering a heart attack in an Australian pool. Faced with an environment that did not know how to help him overcome this trauma, he decided to take refuge in film and literature. "They made me see that I was not the only one going through difficult times," he recalls. During his adolescence he read chronologically all of Shakespeare's plays. At 23 he founded an independent company in Melbourne. At 26 he was already resident director of the Belvoir, one of the best theaters in Sydney, where he directed The wild duck, applauded adaptation of Ibsen's piece. Ivo van Hove, director of the Toneelgroep in Amsterdam, was among the spectators. "After seeing that work, I was convinced that I had a unique talent. He has a great esteem for the classical repertoire and is as good a director as a writer, "says this influential director in an email.
Van Hove soon signed him for his theater, as did the head of the Odéon de Paris, Stéphane Braunschweig, who programmed a controversial re-reading of The three sisters, of Chekhov, inscribed in an apparent contemporary banality. "He is one of the most talented of his generation. His ability to revisit great works of the past through a total rewrite allows him to enroll in our present and reach an extensive audience, "he says. His next project for the prestigious Parisian theater, which will premiere in March, will be the theatrical debut of Adèle Exarchopoulos, the protagonist of The life of Adele. It adds to a long list of projects for 2019, in which there are two operas and, according to the British press, also a movie with Nicole Kidman.
Despite his rise, Stone believes that there is an endemic problem on the European scene. He considers that the theater that emerged after the Second World War, when culture was believed as an ecumenical project capable of closing wounds and favoring social cohesion, has ended up failing. "That form of art that had to belong to the whole world soon became the domain of a select minority and ended up becoming self-referential. Sometimes, it seems that you slept in a theater room during the seventies and you woke up 40 years later while performing the same work, "says Stone. "We have neglected the role of theater as a catalyst for the current state of society. We have failed in the face of our obligation to be contemporary and relevant. " He adds that television has occupied that role. Stone would like the theater to look more like an HBO series, as young directors such as Thomas Jolly, 36, or Julien Gosselin, 31, also advocate. "You should take a lot of the risks television has taken, that it has gone from being the lowest form of culture to becoming the most sophisticated, "he says.
"That art form that should belong to the whole world has become the domain of a select minority"
This public and subsidized theater tends to be social and political, because its main objective was never to entertain, but to generate a transformation. "The problem is that many times it does not cause any. It is theater decided by people who believe themselves to be open and progressive so that other people who believe themselves open and progressive will see it. It is a theater that is self-congratulatory for its values. In the musical comedies of the West End there are more workers than in that theater that is said to be political. I prefer the first ones: at least, they do not take for something they are not, "says Stone. "In the theater we sit next to spectators who have gone to the same schools as us. When was the last time you saw a young man or a proletarian, a black or an Asian? It is not that they are not interested in theater in general, but that in particular. They feel excluded from this narrative, "denounces Stone. "In reality, the intellectual class is responsible for the increase in extremism. Elitism in access to education is as dangerous as the supremacy of money and race. We run the danger of ending up with an art form that used to gather the greatest number of people, from palaces to popular squares, as it happened in the times of Shakespeare or in the Spanish Golden Age. We should let people who are not like you and me take control of him, "he concludes with his most intense tone.
Around him, while the sun disappears on the horizon and the trams whistle as he passes, a small group sitting behind him has begun to listen to him without dissimulation. There are new oracles in European theater.
'Medea', directed by Simon Stone, will be performed at the Teatros del Canal, within the Autumn Festival of Madrid, on 16 and 17 November.