Shakespeare reigns at France's Avignon theatre festival

AVIGNON, France - Shakespeare is still going strong after all these centuries, even in France, where an annual European theatre festival just finished in the southern city of Avignon showcased several of the Bard's works.

But while a German-language version of "Richard III" won a rave reception from critics and audiences, a Frenchified "King Lear" that opened the festival fell flat, with many calling it leaden and caricatural.

"It's a disaster," the newspaper Le Monde said of the latter play. "Un un-lyrical King Lear," Le Figaro wrote.

Modernised and performed in contemporary French language that veered to the colloquial, the tragedy reworked by Olivier Py, who runs the Avignon Festival, did win some applause though for its bold direction.

The play, which opened the three-week arts event at the beginning of July, was quickly surpassed by "Richard III", hailed as the best of the fest.

Directed by Germany's Thomas Ostermeier and starring an accomplished stage and film actor, Lars Eidinger, it was seen as a superlative version of the story about Britain's bent and devious king.

Full-house crowds gave the play an ovation each of the 11 times it was performed in Avignon, confirming a success it has enjoyed in Berlin since February.

Most of the dialogue was in German, but English elbowed its way through at times to deliver some of the plays most famous lines, among which: "Now is the winter of our discontent" and "My kingdom for a horse!"

Among the other shows at Avignon was a Portuguese play and dance performance, "Antony and Cleopatra" by Tiago Rodrigues, which borrowed from Shakespeare's play of the same title - and from the famous 1963 film "Cleopatra" starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Naked acting

Among the other performances that earned accolades was a more modern story, "Woodcutters", based on a novel by the 20th-century Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard and presented by Polish director Krystian Lupa.

A play based on a French philosophical text, "La Republique de Platon" ("Plato's Republic"), performed by French professional and amateur actors, was also warmly received.

An Estonian production, "Mu Naine Vihastas" (or "My Wife got Angry and Deleted All our Holiday Photos"), about a man who asks strangers to recreate his erased family snaps, offered a sharp reflection on our society's obsession with photos and what they purport to represent.

Whichever plays and dance productions Avignon's audiences ended up seeing, there was a common thread up on many of the stages: the lack of threads.

Nudity was a core conceit in several shows, with the actors in a play called "Suddenly, Night" donning and doffing their costumes three times, the actor in "King Lear" diving full-frontally into madness, and a French play titled "A Mon Seul Desir" (To My Only Desire) sending out 35 naked actors and actresses pretending to be rabbits.