London International Festival of Theatre | An Uplifting Display of Thought-Provoking Performance Art

LIFT, the leading London biennial festival of international performance announces the full programme for LIFT 2024. Held in from 5th June to 27th July 2024, LIFT promises a fantastic variety of performances including plays, dance, film, comedy, poetry, cuisine and sensory experiences. This year’s programme pushes boundaries delving into subject matter such as explorations of gender identity, power and justice, unravelling democracy, what it means to be human, and more.

Featuring three World Premieres, two UK Premieres and one London premiere, the international festival imports work from Canada, Taiwan, Ivory Coast, France, Italy, Cape Verde, Portugal, Brazil, Iran and Palestine, to connect Londoners with global experiences, uniting audiences and artists alike across borders. 

We speak to Artistic Director and CEO Kris Nelson, and Creative Producer Amaya Jeyarajah Dent about the exciting programme line up and what to expect this year.

For the uninitiated, please can you tell us about LIFT? Its history and what it represents today? 

KN: LIFT is London International Festival of Theatre. For over 40 years, we’ve been bringing Londoners the boldest and brightest international theatre artists. It’s where Londoners get the pulse of contemporary performance from around the world. We work across the city – you’ll get to find us in some much-loved venues like Southbank Centre or Sadler’s Wells or the brand new Brixton House and some really remarkable sites like the Great Hall at the Old Bailey.  

People tell us they love LIFT for our audacity – we love artists who trade in big ideas and powerful, daring experiences. We bring Londoners artists who hail from around the world. Their styles, their vision and their singular ways of making performance are different from what you can see here. Today the festival represents London’s global conversation on what performance and theatre can be, and where we’re presenting shows that have topics that often wrestle with the headlines. 

How would you describe this year’s festival? 

KN: We’ve got two themes taking shape in this year’s festival. Firstly, The Personal is Epic. These are shows where individual accounts of justice, exile and protest take on mythic proportions and secondly, we’ve got Play The Future, Play The Past. You’ll find shows that reframe our history and bring a wild imagination to what tomorrow might be by offering feasts for the mind and by plunging you into sensation. 

AJD: The program is full of shows that are playful in form, irreverent in spirit, and will take audiences all over London to experience the unexpected in curious spaces steeped in London’s history.  

The mix of international artistry that we have joining us in June and July this year is incredibly varied, with representation from Côte d’Ivoire to Coventry , and every one of these artists has a unique socio-political perspective to bring, or an element of the unknown to explore with our audiences.  

I’m proud that on the one hand LIFT continues to be a platform for the creation of experimental work by artists that are emerging in the UK scene like Bat Night Market, as well as housing world premieres of internationally acclaimed artists finally coming to London, like Marlene Monteiro Freitas. There’s a huge variety in LIFT 24, so that’s how I’d describe it – like standing in front of the pick n mix section at the cinema and wondering what to choose! 

The programme features some pretty amazing sound projects. Bat Night Market, for example. Tell us about the production and the people behind it. 

AJD: The project is the brainchild of a pair of speculative designers, Kuang-Yi Ku and Robert Johnson – they create futuristic fictional scenarios in order to pose questions about the urgent socio political topics of today. Bat Night Market is a theatrical take on a traditional Taiwanese night market, steeped in East Asian futurism. 

The work is all about how we can rethink food resources in the face of the climate crisis and takes us on a deep dive into the world of an extraordinary and endangered species – the bat. Bats are entirely crucial within the world’s ecological systems, and post pandemic, are more endangered now than ever before. The project also reflects on foodstuffs that are considered delicacies in some parts of the world , and are considered disgusting to eat in other places.  

We’ve worked with an extraordinary interdisciplinary team , of academics and scientists from the King’s College London community, to food designers, chefs, sound artists, videographers and orchestral musicians to create Bat Night Market – it’s probably the most unusual piece in this year’s festival in terms of the topics it tackles, and the fact that it’s a meeting point of so many different artforms.

In L’Homme Rare the male body and sexuality are put under the microscope. Give us a sense of what audiences should expect and why the production is so innovative.

KN: Nadia Beugré who made L’Homme rare is so great –  

AJD: She’s an amazing maker –  her work feels mischievous and rowdy 

KN: …Exactly. She’s fearless. L’Homme rare has had huge resonance in every city it’s played in. It’s sensual – we’re watching an ensemble of men gyrate and sway, we’re seeing them almost entirely from behind. It gets hypnotic and then takes you to new levels. It’s deep – the piece is questioning what nudity means, and how Black men and their bodies are exotified. It has humour, because challenging masculinity can produce funny results.  

Nadia is part of a leading wave of African choreographers and theatre makers who are changing the international scene. She is an innovator. Her work is totally singular, and shifts in all kinds of moods between wry, playful, sexy and deep. She’s so skilled at taking you on a journey. 

Cliff Cardinal’s piece The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It, takes a look at the relationship between indigenous people and colonial settlers. Can you tell us what makes such an important show? 

KN: First of all, Cliff is a generational talent. Performer, writer, director, all at once. He takes us on a ride along a razor’s edge of comedy and the truth that lurks behind Canadian ideas of ‘niceness’ and multiculturalism and reveals a lot about how Canada has treated its Indigenous people and the performativity of reconciliation. I don’t want to give too much away but for those that don’t know, land acknowledgements are statements that recognize the original Indigenous peoples of the land, spoken before public events, and often showing up on websites of public institutions in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and increasingly, the US. In Cliff’s As You Like It, he turns that all on its head.  

The show is deeply funny and deeply provocative – full of dark humour and a fresh lens on the impact of empire. You’ll be moved, you’ll laugh, you’ll wonder if you should be laughing… On the personal front, it’s the first Canadian show I’ve brought to LIFT, and I’ll be on the edge of my seat to see how where I grew up will be reflected back to Londoners.  

Chiara Bersani’s performance L’Animale challenges audiences’ perceptions of disability. What should we expect? 

AJD: Chiara is such an incredible artist and thinker. She creates a prolific intimacy in her performances, playing with the audience’s gaze, and with her own voice too. In Chiara’s work she often creates an invitation – to behold, to hold her gaze, to witness her, as an artist and as a disabled person in a way nondisabled audiences are often unaccustomed to.  

There is huge provocation and power in Chiara’s work, and a strong push for change in how we regard disabled communities, and indeed how underrepresented disabled artistry remains in the grand scheme of things. L’animale unfolds amongst the historic marble grandeur at the Old Bailey, the UK’s central criminal courts, originally opened in 1673 as an open-air court, and (sadly and rather unusually) for historic buildings in London, the venue has really good access. We’re looking forward to a really mixed audience joining us in the Square Mile for this piece. 

The Trials and Passions of UnFamous Women immerses us in the haze between the shared rituals of theatre and the halls of justice – tell us more about what we should expect? 

AJD: This is a co-creation between Brazilian theatre makers Janaina Leite and Lara Duarte, and Clean Break – a women’s theatre company who use theatre to keep the subject of women in prison on the cultural radar, helping to reveal the damage caused by the criminal justice system.  

This piece thinks about the performativity that is interwoven into courtroom proceedings, the stories that are told by defence and prosecution, and the oddly visceral nature of truth. In the end, in the courtroom, the verdict is reached by means of the story that feels most convincing to the jury, which might not be a true account of what actually happened.  

Our society is governed by stories, and by archetypes, by characters that often impact how we judge a person before we ever really know them. Trials and Passions explores these archetypes, fusing the stories of mythic, historic and present day womxn, who have transgressed or rebelled – who have broken society’s rules, but often for good reason, for passion, and in the pursuit of truth. 

Finally at Sadler’s Wells Bacchae: Prelude to a Purge. This show sounds like a riot – tell us more! 

KN: It’s like someone dropping a berocca down the top of your spine. The show whips people up into a kind of ecstasy that is just unbeatable. Marlene has assembled an incredible ensemble where every performer is high energy and charismatic. There’s this totally oddball sense of humour that plays out in grotesque gestures and facial expressions, and it is set to thumping music that ranges from Brazilian funk to Cape Verdean carnival to classical. It’s a ritual, it’s a frenzy of a Bacchae. It’s a generous, edgy, daring masterpiece. You can kind of turn your brain off for this one – it’s about plunging deep into revelry. The show is by Marlene Monteiro Freitas who is a cult figure in Europe – she’s ferociously smart and her shows are absolutely fearless.  

This is a great one to take a punt on if you love music, raves or think you have a quirky sense of humour. It’s definitely one for you if you’re not sure if contemporary dance or theatre is for you and that you’ll want to say ‘I was there’. It just throws all the rulebooks out the window. 

Each of the productions in this year’s festival offer you a chance to discover new artists, encounter important ideas and stories from around the world that resonate with Londoners and our experiences here. We’re so excited about the festival – come and join us!
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Thanks to Bread and Butter PR
Images courtesy of LIFT