Tiago Rodrigues, the Portuguese theater that conquers Europe

Tiago Rodrigues (Lisbon, 44 years old) is the playwright who one day writes about his grandmother from Trás-os-Montes and another rehearses a chekhov with Isabelle Huppert in Paris. The student who doubted his future as an actor when he was training following a conventional itinerary at the Lisbon School of Theater and Cinema exploded as one of the renovators of the European scene a few years later. He found his way with the Belgian company tgStan and, when he returned home, he founded Mundo Perfeito with Magda Bizarro in Lisbon, which he does not like to call company but structure. Since 2014 he has been the artistic director of the Dona María II National Theater, which he gave an avant-garde jolt that has made him a courted partner for numerous European co-productions. He does organic theater, where the important thing, as in life, is the road. “When I start I don’t necessarily have a vision of what the play will be, I have a vision of what the process will be,” he clarifies during a telephone interview, a few days before his version of Shakespeare’s historical tragedy is presented in Madrid. , Antony and Cleopatra. What will be seen at the Centro Conde Duque between this Friday the 11th and Sunday the 13th is a naked montage without any of the scenographic additives that the Bardo devised.

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Unlike classical dramaturgy, Rodrigues encourages shared artistic paternity. His montages are made collectively and often explore intimate corners. The same gives all the prominence to one of the last pointers in the world, as happened in Sopro (Blow), who directs the Royal Shakespeare Company in an adaptation by José Saramago (Blindness and Seeing), pending a premiere in London after the cancellation that forced the pandemic in 2020. They want you everywhere.

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Tiago Rodrigues, second from left, at one point in the play ‘Bye Heart’ during a performance in 2018. / Magda Bizarro

If this time you do not travel to Madrid with Antony and Cleopatra It is because the appointment coincides with the representation in Mértola (Portugal) of By Heart, the lyrical exercise that he built from his grandmother’s fight against blindness, where Rodrigues, who before being a director feels himself an actor, comes on stage. In Avignon, moreover, the last rehearsals of The cherry garden, which will open the festival on July 5 on the main stage of the Palace of the Popes with two musicians and 10 actors, led by Isabelle Huppert. If all these works share something, be it poetic inquiries in small stages like Mértola or versions of classics in one of the temples of European dramaturgy, it is curiosity. “I don’t think much about doing theater in a certain way to make a piece like the ones I do, I don’t know what that is either. I like to learn, try something new and work with people I have not worked with, ”he explains.

With Antony and Cleopatra It met all the requirements. The play was staged in 2014 in collaboration with its two protagonists, Sofia Dias and Vítor Roriz, choreographers and dancers, who had never done theater. Rodrigues chose his favorite Shakespearean tragedy to work with two actors who were also a couple on the street. They freed it from scenic grandiloquence: the forty characters were reduced to two and the multiple sets were exchanged for an austere space where there is only a stereo and a kind of gigantic hanging mobile. Antony and Cleopatra are without being. The montage makes the protagonists live in the imagination of the public through the story of the actors. “We didn’t have a lot of money to do the work. Antony and Cleopatra is the most complex and difficult tragedy of Shakespeare from a technical point of view, and we thought about doing the opposite, something very based on the evocative power of the theater that does not show, but evokes and on the power of imagination of the public that he does not see, but imagines and completes the void ”, the playwright maintains.

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Shakespeare’s negative

After this starting point, the work, which already passed through the Temporada Alta in 2016, would end up built with the improvisations of Sofia Diaz and Vítor Roriz after a reading of the tragedy. “When we met again and I asked them to tell me the story of the piece that we had read a few days before, something very beautiful happened, they completed each other’s sentences, they did it almost in performance, They were trying to build an image together, it seemed to me an interesting idea that two bodies try to remember a historical and monumental couple and in doing so they gradually transform into that couple. They start out as actors, but end up as Antony and Cleopatra ”.

In this rewrite of Shakespeare’s play (“irresponsible”, the director criticizes himself, “you know you’re going to do worse than him”), more closeness is achieved and, above all, more intimacy. “We do like Shakespeare’s negative, which made it very public, with characters who are always looked at by others and here are two characters who are always alone,” he compares. What he finds in force is the definition of love that Plutarch made, which would inspire Shakespeare: “He says that from Cleopatra and Antony, love became the ability to look at the world through the sensitivity of the other. That seemed very romantic to me but also very political: love as the ability to put oneself in the other’s shoes ”.

If Shakespeare and Chekhov continue to question today, it is because their dilemmas have outlived them. As much fear of the future as that of the protagonists of The cherry garden they exist today in any middle-class home. “It is a work that speaks of profound social changes and how we behave in the face of the uncertainty of the future. They are things very close to us. It is a portrait of the end of an era and the beginning of another that we still don’t know how it will be ”, he reflects on his first chekhov. Rodrigues believes that, since before the great confinement, there has been a historical crossroads, “with a Europe with very divided societies. I think that people also knew that after the end of the war ”. “Years of recovery and reconstruction await us,” he adds about the pandemic, “the great upcoming challenges must be taken seriously and have strategies to strengthen the arts sector”. Something that, in his opinion, was not done at the beginning of the crisis in Portugal to help culture.

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