The first season of World Stages London is now over. This first-ever collaboration between London producing venues – bringing together 8 London theatres with 12 UK and international co-producers – closed on 23 June 2012.

70,000 people saw the shows produced in London, which far exceeded our original expectations.  Not including permanent staff at collaborating theatres, World Stages London employed 175 theatre professionals, along with over 500 non-professional participants. The productions were loved and appreciated by many – a high proportion of whom were not regular theatre goers -  as well as provoking strong debate amongst audiences and industry.

We thought this would be a one-off initiative, but we’ve been so encouraged by the response to the season and our ability to create work we can’t make individually, we will continue with World Stages London in 2013 and beyond. For starters, Wah! Wah! Girls was presented at Theatre Royal Stratford East in September 2012, as part of the London 2012 Festival.  In early 2013, the Royal Court and Young Vic will co-produce Feast at the Young Vic, exploring the journey of Yoruba culture, tradition and religion, as it moved through slavery from West Africa to the Americas.  Director Rufus Norris and the Royal Court are working with playwrights from five countries where the Yoruban legacy has had great impact on contemporary life: Rotimi Babatunde (Nigeria) Marcos Barbosa (Brazil), Tanya Barfield (USA), Yunior Garcia Aguilera (Cuba), and Gbolahan Obisesan (UK).

We want to thank all our supporters and funders for making World Stages London possible and look forward to the next chapter.

David Lan and Nicola Thorold, Co-directors of World Stages London  

Katie Antoniou spoke to Gill Kirk, winner of the TasteTheatre Golden Ticket to all the World Stages London shows, about her thoughts on the shows she’s seen so far and the WSL initiative as a whole.

Had you read Wild Swans before you saw the production and if so, did it live up to your expectations?

I had had the book on my shelves for - ahem - a decade, where it had smiled, a bit worthily, I felt, at me but I never got round to reading it - I still haven’t! Such a shame because, as the play showed, it is a very human story - and not a history lesson or political polemic.

Are you more likely to go and see a play if the cast includes film actors and actresses you might have seen on screen- e.g Katie Leung of Harry Potter fame?

I’m not, but I work in theatre as a writer, so I see a lot of productions and am very keen to see new faces and new work.

The set design in Wild Swan has received a lot of praise- do you think theatres have to work harder with their visual effects these days in order to keep people’s attention since we’re used to being over stimulated by action movies, video games and TV?

Great question! I did wonder about this - the set is a major part of this production, and an important one, I think. It’s not so much about keeping our attention because of over-stimulation from the variety of screens we all face, but theatre MUST raise its game - as has been the case since the dawn of cinema and TV and so on. We now expect something from theatre that we don’t get on screen (well - a certain part of the theatre-going puntership does).

Actually – you could even suggest that theatre almost divides into stuff you could see on telly (“populist”) and stuff that can only be theatre (is this “elitist”?!) But if you go back to pre-screen theatre, visual effects were always vital (for example; “exit pursued by bear”!)

Did Wild Swans teach you anything about China that you were unaware of before?

I used to be a pro-Tibet activist, so knew quite a lot, but this humanised the history for me.

Three Kingdoms has provoked a love/hate response from critics - did you love it or hate it?!

Hmm. Lots to think about and I am straddled between both camps - tho’ not such a strong “marmite” reaction on either side. I like the bravery, the fun (there could have been more conscious laughter from the audience, perhaps), the audacity, but I got bored with some of the less mature humour. I wasn’t at all bothered (as some critics are) by the depictions of misogyny - as a woman, feminist and past activist, it didn’t surprise me or feel unreal - just spot on in fact; we see harder depictions of women’s abuse on TV drama daily.

There’s also been some controversy over whether a critic’s review is of more value than the audiences- either via their blogposts or vox pops taken at the event. Would you be more likely to go and see a production based on what a critic has said, or what a member of the general public has said?

Anything that evens up the audience/critic relationship is a good thing - I’m delighted that there’s been kick-back, whatever the show!

Are there any WSL productions you’ve been to see that you think you definitely wouldn’t have bought a ticket to see independently? Shows that you instinctively felt weren’t your cup of tea? Were those feelings confirmed when you went to see them or did they surprise you?!

I might have seen Three Kingdoms independently because of the writer’s importance, but living out of London, it’s unlikely I would have come in for any of the others. But I’m lucky in Bath - we get a lot of tours.

Have you been to any venues for the first time because of WSL? Do you think you will go again? Would you recommend them to friends?

Absolutely on all counts: never been to Lyric Hammersmith and of course, today I will be at the new Bush! I love the Young Vic and would definitely recommend all these venues.

Coming from outside London, do you think the collaboration of the WSL venues has raised the profile of the London theatre scene and encouraged people to visit the capital?

Oh, that is hard to say. It’s such a crowded marketplace with the Jubilee and cultural olympiad and so on. Here’s a telling - and irritating thing - I have offered my +1 tickets to tens of people, all theatrical - only ONE person has taken me up on ONE show. Perhaps this is sign of people being lazier when it comes to entertainment- it is easier to stick on a DVD than to travel to a theatre, but that’s why theatre has to up it’s game to motivate people to make the effort.

Katie Antoniou caught up with photojournalist Gideon Mendel to learn more about his exhibition 'Drowning World', on show at Somerset House until 5th June as part of World Stages London.

You’ve visited flood victims all over the world, including countries like Haiti, India and Pakistan. Did you feel the people you photographed had a sense of the global implications of climate change?

I frequently photographed people in the midst of an environmental disaster that had devastated their life. Their thinking about its wider global context varied hugely between different countries and cultures. In some scenarios people had no inkling of climate change issues as we think about them but had a strong sense that things were changing in their natural environment. They felt that things around them were more extreme than ever- the heat, or the rain, and knew that the flood they were experiencing was the worst in living memory. In contrast in countries like Australia and Thailand, many of my subjects had strong opinions about climate change and their opinions ranged across the discussion. From ‘It’s nothing at all to do with climate change. Floods have always been part of the natural cycle here’ to ‘my home has been destroyed by climate change. Nothing on this scale has ever happened before’.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to be raising awareness of Climate Change?

I do not like to prescribe what other artists specifically should be doing. The question is what responsibilities we all have living in our culture of consumption in the West. Personally I feel some responsibility to try address the issue in my photographic work, because of my concerns about the world that my children will be living in. But I do think it is a very difficult issue for artists to take on and respond to. I believe that the problem with much of the existing photographic work on climate change is very distant (images of ice, wild animals or exotic faraway places) so difficult to take on. My work is a very individual attempt to show the human face of climate change. I hope that the gaze of my subjects will engage an audience in a direct way.

What are you working on at the moment? Do you plan to keep visiting areas affected by flooding?

Right now I have just returned from a trip to the north of Kenya, working on a project about Hunger with Concern International. Much of this time was spent documenting the situation of the Gabbra and Barana pastoralists whose nomadic lifestyle is being destroyed by climate change. I am also shortly heading off to Washington to work on another chapter of the Through Positive Eyes project, linked in to the global HIV/AIDS conference due to take place in late July.

I see this exhibition as a halfway point in the project and plan to continue trying to visit areas affected by flooding with the aim of producing a book and more extensive exhibition in 2015. I am aware that if one places my existing work in the debate about the imaging of climate change it is missing some key countries. There are no photographs from America or China, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Both these counties have recently experienced major floods, but I was not able to get to them. Poor countries in Africa are also very vulnerable to climate change and are often prone to flooding. So I believe that there is much work still to be done.

The logistics of getting to floods when they happen are complex but I hope to be in a position where I can respond quickly to some major floods in the coming years. With this I hope the project can grow to be both a powerful artistic statement and a working form of visual advocacy.

World Stages London is currently also working on Climate Refugees, The Opera. Across the world, mainly in the poorest areas, the impact of the changing climate is forcing people to leave their homes. This opera tells their stories. During the course of the opera, community will sing to community, as people learn about each other, share their common experiences and discover that their singing can be heard on the other side of the world.

Here are some behind the scenes photos of rehearsals for The Beloved, a ShiberHur, Bush Theatre and KVS Brussels co production written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is told in both the Bible and the Koran.

When Abraham returns home from a journey with his son, his wife is troubled by the boy’s state of mind. What took place on the mountain that day is the beginning of a lifetime of suffering and the dawn of a new age for millions.

Under the direction of Amir Nizar Zuabi, trailblazing Palestinian theatre company ShiberHur returns to London.

Buy your tickets to the show, opening next week, here.

The first in a series of videos capturing the response of audience members at Babel, produced by Battersea Arts Centre and Wild Works in collaboration with Lyric Hammersmith, Theatre Royal Startford East and Young Vic. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind experience; book your tickets here.

On 11th May the first of the World Stages London series of talks took place at Somerset House. The topic discussed was;
Is it worth it? Those involved in creating World Stages London share the complexities and challenges of making theatre through collaboration. 
On the panel were:
David Lan - Artistic Director Young Vic and co-Director World Stages London
David Micklem - Joint Artistic Director, BAC
Jessica Hepburn - Joint Chief executive of Lyric Hammersmith
Madani Younis - Artistic Director, Bush Theatre
Diane Borger - Producer, A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater)
Chair - Nicola Thorold, Co-Director World Stages London
Katie Antoniou was live tweeting from the talk for those who couldn’t be there-you can see the twitter feed here. Here are some of the main points summarised for you:
David Lan talked about how World Stages London was the chance for theatres to create their dream project- something that would have been impossible without the help of other companies. ‘Crisis’ comes from the Latin word for crosswords- and in a way each crisis in collaboration was just a way of discovering a different path or route to a result, or following a new direction.
Jessica Hepburn talked about her experience working on Three Kingdoms; how the way theatre works in Germany is remarkably different to the UK. So whilst here, generally, the writer is seen as ‘God’ with the director bringing his vision to life, in Germany the director is the one with the power and the vision.This change in dynamic led to interesting results, with the director creating scenes that weren’t even in the original script.
Many of the speakers explained that this was the first time they felt they could communicate with other London theatres in any terms other than competition. But David Micklem explained how collaboration was already very much part of Battersea Arts Centre’s nature already- the belief that ideas can always be improved. Working on Babel with Wild Works in collaboration with Lyric Hammersmith, Theatre Royral Stratford East and the Young Vic meant celebrating the different companies’ cultures, which added a richness to the production.
Madani Younis spoke about The Beloved being The Bush Theatre’s first international collaboration in it’s entire 40 year history.
Diane Borger explained how everything that could have gone wrong in the making of Wild Swans, did go wrong! One of the difficulties in collaboration was the issue of being two cultures divided by a common language- cultural differences between how the Americans and The British work were often hard to identify until they’d caused confusion- for example, in America what we would call the technical director is referred to as the production manager, and vice-versa.
David Lan also referred to initial fears companies experienced that they might lose some of their identity working together, but actually they’ve found that people become more themselves when surrounded by different cultures.
There is another World Stages London talk at Somerset House on May 25th at 3pm:
Is digital technology the answer to a sustainable future for international performance? A panel of experts discuss the issues raised when live performance pushes the boundaries of technology. They reflect on the development process for Climate Refugees The Opera which will bring together artistis, participants and audiences across three continents to create a single simultaneously live and digital experience. 
Book to attend here.

On 11th May the first of the World Stages London series of talks took place at Somerset House. The topic discussed was;

Is it worth it? Those involved in creating World Stages London share the complexities and challenges of making theatre through collaboration. 

On the panel were:

David Lan - Artistic Director Young Vic and co-Director World Stages London

David Micklem - Joint Artistic Director, BAC

Jessica Hepburn - Joint Chief executive of Lyric Hammersmith

Madani Younis - Artistic Director, Bush Theatre

Diane Borger - Producer, A.R.T. (American Repertory Theater)

Chair - Nicola Thorold, Co-Director World Stages London

Katie Antoniou was live tweeting from the talk for those who couldn’t be there-you can see the twitter feed here. Here are some of the main points summarised for you:

David Lan talked about how World Stages London was the chance for theatres to create their dream project- something that would have been impossible without the help of other companies. ‘Crisis’ comes from the Latin word for crosswords- and in a way each crisis in collaboration was just a way of discovering a different path or route to a result, or following a new direction.

Jessica Hepburn talked about her experience working on Three Kingdoms; how the way theatre works in Germany is remarkably different to the UK. So whilst here, generally, the writer is seen as ‘God’ with the director bringing his vision to life, in Germany the director is the one with the power and the vision.This change in dynamic led to interesting results, with the director creating scenes that weren’t even in the original script.

Many of the speakers explained that this was the first time they felt they could communicate with other London theatres in any terms other than competition. But David Micklem explained how collaboration was already very much part of Battersea Arts Centre’s nature already- the belief that ideas can always be improved. Working on Babel with Wild Works in collaboration with Lyric Hammersmith, Theatre Royral Stratford East and the Young Vic meant celebrating the different companies’ cultures, which added a richness to the production.

Madani Younis spoke about The Beloved being The Bush Theatre’s first international collaboration in it’s entire 40 year history.

Diane Borger explained how everything that could have gone wrong in the making of Wild Swans, did go wrong! One of the difficulties in collaboration was the issue of being two cultures divided by a common language- cultural differences between how the Americans and The British work were often hard to identify until they’d caused confusion- for example, in America what we would call the technical director is referred to as the production manager, and vice-versa.

David Lan also referred to initial fears companies experienced that they might lose some of their identity working together, but actually they’ve found that people become more themselves when surrounded by different cultures.

There is another World Stages London talk at Somerset House on May 25th at 3pm:

Is digital technology the answer to a sustainable future for international performance? A panel of experts discuss the issues raised when live performance pushes the boundaries of technology. They reflect on the development process for Climate Refugees The Opera which will bring together artistis, participants and audiences across three continents to create a single simultaneously live and digital experience. 

Book to attend here.

Acclaimed Palestinian playwright and director Amir Nizar Zuabi discusses “the Abrahamic myth of the sacrifice” and its retelling inThe Beloved, opening at The Bush on 21 May

A woman’s head is washed up on the banks of the Thames in Hammersmith. Two British detectives set off on the trail of her killers. While crossing borders and language barriers they enter a nightmarish world that will change one of them forever.

 This is the first time that the Lyric Hammersmith, Germany’s Munich Kammerspiele and Estonia’s Teater NO99 have collaborated together.

Simon Stephens’ Three Kingdoms has already been causing controversy and creating a divide between those who ‘get it’ and consider it a work of genius, and those who don’t. Time Out perhaps put it best when they said:

'It's clearly not for everyone. But this is as stylish and unsettling a production as you'll see in London this year, an all too rare synthesis of Brit wit and European boldness'

Simon Stephens wrote a piece for The Guardian about having the courage to break free from Britain’s island mentality:

’.. I think I’ve written no other play that better serves the clash of cultures that define the spirit of World Stages London. I will be fascinated to see if the assumptions and expectations of our audiences will be as provoked and interrogated to the same degree as mine have been in working with them.’

Here are some more reviews that capture the essence of Three Kingdoms:

Evening Standard:

Elements of Three Kingdoms feel visionary. There’s a stunning theatricality in Nübling’s interpretation, which largely dispenses with the idea of elucidating meaning, preferring instead to create a montage of nightmarish images (a woman clawing her way out a suitcase) and intriguing textures (as when a quartet of Estonian hard men pound the set wearing boxing gloves). It’s the kind of thing aficionados of non-naturalistic theatre will cross continents to devour.

Finanical Times

Sebastian Nübling’s staging (performed in English, German and Estonian by a multi-national cast as part of World Stages London) mixes the grit with pitch-black humour and surreal fantasy to create a hallucinatory stage-world that, at its best, brilliantly conveys the men’s disorientation.

Exeunt Magazine

'this daring piece of European theatre co-opts its conservative critics from the outset, and with such savage joy. ‘You really do think Europe is a tawdry nightmare don’t you? Well, on one level – the level that you can understand – that is what you’re going to get.’ The queasy reaction from certain critics already suggests that the London stage is on the cusp of readiness for this.  One of the best pieces of theatre, anywhere, you are likely to see this year.'

Fourth Wall Magazine

The process of getting Three Kingdoms to the stage of the Lyric Hammersmith alone is an extraordinary and unlikely achievement, facilitated through a collaboration between the Lyric, the Munich Kammerspiele and Estonian company Teater NO99 as part of World Stages London, with visionary German director Sebastian Nübling at the helm. The resulting creation is explosive, surreal, disorientating, anarchic, beautiful, messy, visceral and dreamlike – there are simply not enough adjectives to encompass all that this theatrical experience manages to be over three dazzling, hallucinatory hours.

You can read praise for Three Kingdoms from critics and theatre goers on Lyric Hammersmith’s Storify thread here. Whilst some critics may not be fans, there’s no doubt that the public has been hooked by Three Kingdoms- people have even been returning to see it a second time. Follow the Lyric Hammersmith on Twitter to hear about ticket availability.
Photos by Ene Liis Semper

Text by Katie Antoniou

Lyric Hammersmith Artistic Director Sean Holmes and award-winning playwright Simon Stephens talk about Three Kingdoms, the next show in the series of World Stages London, starting next Thursday 3 May at the Lyric Hammersmith. Don’t miss your chance to see the London premiere of this dark new thriller, book here!

'Wild Swans is the first production of World Stages London, a capital-wide season of shows bringing eight London theatres together with 12 UK and international companies to tell global stories. It is a season both epic and ambitious, like Wild Swans' Matthew Amer for The Official London Theatre

'Epic and ambitious' are just a couple of the many words of praise that have been sung for the production of Wild Swans at The Young Vic.

Photos by Chris Nash

China at the heart of the 20th century. A nation transformed beyond recognition. Through the eyes of one fiercely courageous family, Wild Swans takes us on a journey from the early days of Communist hope and struggle, through the chaos and confusion of Mao’s Cultural Revolution to the birth of a superpower. 

An astonishing human story, Wild Swans has sold 13 million copies in 36 languages, making it the best-selling non-fiction book in British publishing history. 

This first ever stage version brings together Jung Chang with playwright Alexandra Wood, director Sacha Wares, designer Miriam Buether and Beijing video artist Wang GongXin.

Here are just a few quotes from press reviews so far:

‘Jaw dropping visuals… a feast for the eyes… a triumph.’

Daily Express

‘I can’t tell you how enormously refreshing - and vitally important - this evening is… superb.’

The Daily Telegraph

‘The genius of Miriam Buether’s design… the stunning video work of Wang GongXin… the astonishing visuals will stay in the memory.’ 

The Guardian

‘Alexandra Wood’s adaptation, vividly directed by Sacha Wares, captures [the book’s] indomitable personal spirit… Unforgettable.’ 

Time Out

‘Powerful, gripping… stunningly well staged.’

The Independent  

‘Beautiful… the design is truly amazing. This brilliant stage adaptation proves a wonderful way of launching World Stages London. ’ 
What’s On Stage

Though the show is sold out, Young Vic has been releasing a few extra tickets - follow them on twitter @youngvictheatre to hear about any more returns.

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In association with the National Theatre Studio