Whether you voted “Leave” or “Remain”, you can still alter the storyline of the interactive Forum Theatre performance Hotel Europa.
The UK debate surrounding the Brexit vote has primarily focused on discussing the political and monetary advantages vs. disadvantages of EU membership with its impact on issues of sovereignty, health service, employment, business investment, and immigration. However, few have taken a step back to look at the wider picture and start critically questioning: What is today’s Europe all about and how effective are the current political economic ideologies controlling the lives of the majority of its citizens?
This is the central question of Hotel Europa which brings together a European cast of Theatre of the Oppressed practitioners from France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Croatia and Scotland, after two years of joint creative work under the TOgether International Theatre Company, to tell a story of a middle-class family affected by government-imposed austerity measures following Europe’s recent financial crisis and the accompanying striving for more profit from an unreformed banking sector.
The play is told from the point of view of AOIO, an ardent activist who tries to passionately persuade his parents that the anti-capitalist ideology he protests for on the streets is possible to create in their hotel. Such a controversial central storyline is then supported by key characters such as workers, capitalists, bankers, media, the police, and protesters. Throughout this vigorously stimulating performance, two vibrantly talented German and Portuguese musicians are playing live music on the stage with an irresistible catchy warm-up chant boosting positive proactive energy in audiences as they sing along.
In an interview with Gavin Crichton, Hotel Europa’s Scottish cast member and artistic director of Active Inquiry, he explains how this compellingly engaging play is uniquely adopting the Forum Theatre approach where audiences can actively stop the second run of the performance at any moment to make interventions to the dramatic action on stage and even replace an actor if desired, with the aim of searching for alternatives to the crucial staged problems.
Crichton also mentions how this method has been originally developed by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal to expose oppressive injustice and instigate real action in the 60s with a belief that ‘theatre is not revolutionary in itself, instead a rehearsal of revolution’. ‘However, Forum Theatre is not about actors giving audiences the perfect solution, but it is about asking questions, building knowledge collectively, and proposing potential ways forward as we criticize society in its status quo… it’s about using the language and space of theatre more democratically, saying we are all theatre,’ he says.
In the post-referendum European Parliament session, Gabriele Zimmer, Chair of the Nordic Green Left, was the only one to point out how the general debate lacked self-criticism by not critically discussing the financial crisis with its resulting brutal treatment of Greece, Italy and other European countries while adding that ‘the EU has not shown it can protect its citizens against the risks of globalisation’.
Those overlooked arguments are however pivotal at this provokingly confrontational performance where Crichton stresses how the play is not about whether a country should stay in or out of the EU, but goes beyond this narrow debate to invite audiences to essentially ask themselves ‘how can we challenge a neoliberal ideology while being locked inside that system which exploits the whole time and consumes us every day due to the need of constantly buying things’. Fundamentally, Hotel Europa asks: What would a different future for Europe look like?