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Mercury International Programme

  • Date: 20 January 2012
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: South East
young girl extends arm with puppet behind mimicing gesture Natalie Kakhidze as Pelagia in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, at Marjanishvili Theatre, Tbilisi, Georgia, Photo courtesy Marjanishvili Theatre

Two Arts Council England, National Lottery-funded Grants for the Arts awards, totalling £125,000, have enabled Colchester to host artists from thirteen different countries this autumn as part of a two year programme of international arts collaboration and exchange.

Led and delivered by the Mercury Theatre, the Mercury International Programme (MIP), with its global budget of £436,000, allowed Colchester audiences in 2010 to enjoy the sell-out Mercury Theatre Company (MTC) and Salida Productions co-production of Romeo and Juliet with Astillero, the dynamic Argentinean Street Tango Orchestra from Buenos Aires. The production has since been invited to China in 2012.

The Macedonian Drama Theatre's award-winning Hamlet  played Colchester in that year whilst the MTC production of Bryony Lavery's Stockholm played Macedonia and the National Theatre of Bulgaria to sell-out houses.

In 2011, MIP moved from facilitating exchange into real collaboration bringing artists, creatives and arts administrators together to develop their skills through the Places Links Opportunities Transitions Stories (PLOTS) partnership.

PLOTS is an international partnership of theatres from Poland, Italy, Macedonia, Bulgaria and England and is part-financed by the European Union under the Culture 2007 Programme, to support mobility and exchange of experiences and expertise in the arts in Europe.  As well as support from Arts Council England, the collaboration has had EU funding and contributions from other co-funders across Europe.

PLOTS enabled 47 artists to participate in a programme of collaborative workshops to experiment, learn and share their practise. Three separate productions, tempEst/BUzra, Passion of Trojan Women and Eve Ryman came out of the workshops and all three played in Colchester and at five other international festivals across Europe.

At the same time the funding enabled a partnership with NFA Arts International, MTC and Marjanishvili Theatre from Tbilisi, Georgia to create a large scale co-production of an adaptation of Louis de Bernière's Captain Corelli's Mandolin, with MTC ensemble actors working with 10 puppeteers and 40 puppets in what turned out to be a runaway success in both countries.

It won critical acclaim in the press and was given a four star review in The Telegraph and had a standing ovation at the Marjanishvili Theater. In addition Wretch was created through collaboration between the Mercury Theatre Company's Gari Jones and Macedonian visual artist Vanja Sheremetkoski.

It is hoped that both Wretch and Captain Corelli's Mandolin will go on to other international festivals and will spread the word about Colchester's rich cultural scene to an even wider global audience.

One of the British participants in the programme, Mercury Theatre actor Gina Isaac, commented: 'We were a mixture of actors and dancers and it was really interesting to see how different our approaches to work actually were.

'Actors are trained to protect and respect their bodies and dancers are trained to push theirs to the limits. This made for some very interesting rehearsals!

'We all had to be flexible and open to each other's needs and limitations. As much as this was frustrating at times it really opened up an honest dialogue in rehearsals.  Also, because there is such a mix of languages in the room you absolutely have to be clear about what you feel and want to say. It was great to be able to be very direct with people - it was good for the work'.

Dee Evans, Artistic Director at Mercury Theatre, said: 'All sorts of challenges were met and overcome through this project; not least, working in a number of different languages at the same time; dealing with Foreign Office bureaucracy; and understanding that for some people 'I'll do it now' means 'I'll do it sometime in the future that isn't today and which may indeed never come!'

'From front of house to wardrobe staff, from directors to actors, we've all been exposed to challenging, interesting and stretching experiences that we can build on.  The Mercury's now reaching out to another continent with a co-production in Mumbai, India...so, watch this space.'

To find out more about Mercury Theatre's partnerships visit the website.