Panoptikum Festival, Nuremberg: reflections by Paul Harman

Panoptikum Festival, Nuremberg 4-9 Feb 20 (

Paul Harman was director of Takeoff festival (UK) from 1989 to 2008

An overview is what I wanted and 24 shows from 13 European countries met all the demands an enthusiast for TYA could make. A fabulously restored major European city: superb public transport: warm and welcoming hosts in their own house, Theater Mummpitz: every genre from mechanical installation with performance to street dance with comedy: the cream of festival programmers from Edinburgh to Shanghai. We’re kept in order by Cathrin Blöss, doyenne of German festival organisers.

Every two years for the last twenty, Mummpitz, led by Andrea Erl, have celebrated TYA in a city that also hosts the world trade fair in toys. She collaborates with two other independent theatre companies with their own houses, Pfütze and Salz und Pfeffer and with the full support of Bavaria’s Culture Minister and modern theatre spaces available at every scale, Panoptikum showcases work from Bavarian companies alongside the best in Europe, like Andy Manley’s collaboration with Theater Refleksion (GB + Denmark) or Arcosm (FR). NIE brought a typical and creatively crazy, comic show from children’s own stories performed by actors from Norway, Poland, Austria, Spain, Denmark and GB.

My favourite was the smallest, created and performed by a storyteller/actor from Nuremberg who brought AT HOME IN THE WORLD to the foyer of an arts centre on his bike. The set was a pair of tiny formica topped tables and the main characters a pair of two inch high glazed pottery houses. The four year olds loved it, and I appreciated the detailed manipulation of tiny objects down to a piece of string, a warm engaging voice and totally respectful manner of the performance, plenty of age-appropriate verbal jokes, on a level with the audience in every way. But with serious themes: home, loneliness, strangers.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, METRO, BOULOT, DODO can only be described as an hilarious dance marathon, precise to a bead of sweat, which castigates the iron rules of modern bureaucratic work in a crowded city, slavery to the daily business routine, and an absurd world in which human interaction is reduced to being forced into clumsy clinches with strangers on a packed rush-hour train. Four powerful male Flemish dancers working under the company name Nevski Prospekt (BE).

One of them, 55 year old Ives, worked with Swiss company Sgaramusch to create LIEBE ÜBEN (Let’s Practice Loving). The premise of this lecture-demo for teens is that 45 year old Hannah fancies Ives but he is gay. She has a ‘boy-friend’, she tells a teenager in the audience in the Q & A after the show, which combines dance expression of deeply personal emotions, longings for love and companionship, with autobiographical stories about coming to understand who you are, what you need from a partner and what love is. At one point, as an image of honesty and confidence, they strip to their knickers to try on a classic wedding dress, which Hannah desperately wants to wear for real but has never found the right man and Ives puts on and enjoys dancing in because he has found the right man. Grown-up relationships education and excellent performance to embody the turmoil of feelings, doubts, curiosity and fears everyone experiences but most of us find so hard to express.

Highlights? SUR LE FIL (FR) is street dance with attitude, stories, encounters, energy and fabulous skills from six guys who have things to say. CELLOSTORM (NL) is theatrical storytelling through music by eight young cellists. You couldn’t make it up. It’s simply brilliant and life-affirming.

That is what Panoptikum is too, a positive experience for lovers of theatre for young people, fuelled by two vegetarian meals a day for all us visitors in the foyer of Theater Mummpitz – 200 yards from an U-Bahn station and so just 20 minutes to the airport. Tschüüss! Bis Dann!


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