The Turning World is the story of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) told by founding directors, Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal. The LIFT story spans the cultural life of the capital since the early 1980s when there was virtually no international work to be seen in London, and even less political will to embrace it. The first LIFT took place in 1981 when Mandela was still in prison, the Berlin Wall firmly in place and the Balkans intact. Graduating from Warwick University in 1979, the year Thatcher came to power, Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal ventured abroad, driven by instinct and curiosity, to find the most exciting and innovative theatre from around the world. Frequently, the work came from artists struggling under politically oppressive regimes or emerging from countries torn apart by war. Increasingly, Fenton and Neal programmed site-specific shows, revealing to London audiences hidden and undiscovered spaces within the city.
The stories are told with humour and humility in a vigorous first-hand narrative by Fenton and Neal. Divided into four sections – London, International, Festival and Theatre – each narrative is complemented by an essay from a leading arts commentator and the book is illustrated with a wealth of photographic material from the LIFT archive.
London explores the way in which LIFT has engaged with the physical, social and cultural landscape of London and the city’s connections with the world. Naseem Khan, who has observed the evolution of multicultural London and its arts constituencies for thirty years, charts LIFT’s impact on the city. International follows the many LIFT stories which run parallel to key world events since 1980 – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the conflict in the Middle East and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Rustom Bharucha, an independent writer and cultural critic, contextualizes LIFT’s involvement and examines broader issues of internationalism. Festival evokes the celebratory nature of the festival environment, and theatre scholar and cultural analyst Dragan Klaic considers the political and cultural development of international performing-arts festivals. In the final section, Theatre, Fenton and Neal look at experimentation in the hands of the innovators, while Guardian critic Lyn Gardner assesses the contribution LIFT has made to British theatre, geographically, culturally, stylistically and aesthetically.
LIFT’s rich and varied programming of international work in London has had a profound influence on the development of theatre in the UK, challenging the conventions of British theatre by introducing new forms of theatrical expression which has gone on to transform ideas and bring new perspectives on audiences, communities and spaces throughout the city.
With essays by Rustom Bharucha, Lyn Gardner, Naseem Khan and Dragan Klaic.
Postscript by Peter Sellars
Illustrations in colour and black and white.