Way to Heaven, by Juan Mayorga, one of the plays performed at FeSTeLõn in 2017.

Back in 2013, the festival was a tribute to María Moliner and her dictionary of the Spanish Language. Photo: Ros Ribas

FeSTeLõn is meant to be not only a theatre festival but an opportunity for cultural exchange as well.

Spanish drama sets foot in London

Spanish stage talents have made their way to the John Lyon's Theatre in London, home to the well-established Festival of Spanish Theatre, FeSTeLõn, from 11 to 24 June.

London’s summer calendar of cultural activities has a Spanish accent. It is because of FeSTeLõn, the Festival of Spanish Theatre London, whose sixth edition is offering a fine selection of shows by Spanish companies this year.

Back in 2013, Mariví Rodríguez Quiñones, a Spanish teacher at King’s College London, embarked on an exciting cultural adventure to promote our country’s theatrical heritage in the British capital. The idea was to build a cultural bridge between Spain and the UK. And the goal was achieved.

Back then, the festival was a tribute to María Moliner and her dictionary of the Spanish Language. It took three days and clearly centred on words. With the help of dozens of volunteers, FeSTeLõn grew to encompass Cervantes – with shows like En un lugar del Quijote or Los espejos de Don Quijote – and other Golden Age classics (Rosaura, an adaptation of La vida es sueño), as well as contemporary playwrights or disciplines like mime. This year, FeSTeLõn is back with a two-week programme at John Lyon’s Theatre (City Lit), with four different theatre companies ("Malvados del oro", "Qué raros son los hombres", "La historia del zoo" and “A secreto agravio, secreta venganza” by Calderón de la Barca; and two for children; "La vida es sueño: el Bululú y "Guyi, Guyi").

‘Being part of FeSTeLõn helped me understand that theatre blurs boundaries by connecting to emotions,’ says playwright Juan Carlos Rubio. But, is language not a boundary at FeSTeLõn? Absolutely not. Plays are staged in Spanish, with English subtitles.

Mariví is the heart and soul of the project. She talks about her choice of shows: ‘I’m not in the theatre business. I’m only a theatre goer that feels the plays, so I tend to make gut choices, with an international audience in mind.’

Behind the curtain

FeSTeLõn is meant to be not only a theatre festival but an opportunity for cultural exchange as well. In line with this, the programme includes a series of talks, workshops and meetings with actors and directors.

Several workshops have been scheduled for 2018 at Theatre Delicatessen in the context of FeSTeLõn: ‘Theatre of the Oppressed: An Introduction to Image and Newspaper Theatre’ and ‘Theatre of the Oppressed: An Introduction to Forum Theatre’ by María Estévez-Serrano and Diego Ludicissa (March), ‘The Concept of Dramatic Structure’ by Germán D'Alessandro and ‘How to Direct Yourself Before an Audition’ by Vidal Sancho (April), and ‘Translating for the Stage’ by Kathryn Phillips-Miles and Simon Deefholts (May).

As to the talks, they feature such keynote speakers as Natalia Menéndez, former director of the Almagro Classical Theatre Festival, or actors Raimon Molins and Pepe Viyuela.

The educational side of the programme includes acting classes at Notre Dame High School in Southwark.

In addition to FeSTeLõn, other stage initiatives are being carried out by Spaniards in the UK. In November 2016, the Spanish Theatre Company (STC) established the Cervantes Theatre in Southwark, London – a project designed by Jorge de Juan and Paula Paz to stage plays from Spain and Latin America. In 2014, Shakespeare’s Globe witnessed a performance in Spanish of one of Lope de Vega’s plays: El castigo sin venganza (1631).

Events like FeSTeLõn, backed by organisations like Instituto Cervantes, can make Spanish voices heard in other countries while promoting coexistence and dialogue. Spanish actors and directors can find their way in other markets, inspire wider audiences and get reviews from international critics for their quality performances.