Europa @ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

When I read the description for Europa as a ‘satiric and savagely comic snapshot of European life’ I expected something like if Have I Got News For You were a play. After the first ten minutes I realised my expectations were a little off, but once I had re-evaluated what I was watching I began to enjoy the play.

First a little back story: the idea for the project came to dramaturge Caroline Jester in 2009 when the increased levels of debate about European and national identity came to her attention. Reaching out to playwrights in Poland, Germany and Croatia, Jester planned a multi-lingual collaborative play. The writers visited one another’s countries to gain a greater understanding of the different people that populate Europe. The extensive research was evident on stage through the unique stories and the characters didn’t feel like stereotypes of their nation (unless intended for comic effect).

The way director Janusz Kica chose to show the clashes between nationalities was through numerous artistic media. The stage opens covered in white paint and is slowly graffitied with iconic imagery from each country before blue paint and paper consumes everything; the European umbrella preventing the individuality of countries coming through. Just above the stage was a screen where subtitles and special-effect shots of the stage were displayed. It was good those that didn’t speak more than just English were catered for, but having to direct attention to both the speedy subtitles and the stage made following the story difficult at times.

europa2The story itself is one made up of numerous narratives focusing on different aspects of Europe’s history and culture. With so many plots to follow it is easy to get overwhelmed but the disjointed feeling is favourable in representing the chaos and confusion in today’s Europe. The origins of the continent are told by the ancient Greek figure Europa who remains omnipresent throughout as she watches the hardships of modern Europe affect its people. These stories include a European couple with Muslim connections being interrogated by British authorities as suspects of terrorism, a German reflecting on the East/West divide, and a Polish woman whose desire for larger breasts leads to a discovery about her rich ancestry.

Europa is a very busy play that examines some heavy topics. Yet the combination of tense moments of emphatic drama and witty comedic interaction between characters meant the big questions were addressed without losing the audience. Much credit should be given for this ambitious project; it is by no means an easy feat to bring actors and playwrights of different nations together, to be able to overcome language barriers and produce a fine thought-provoking play such as Europa.

by Andy Cashmore


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