Derry’s year as the UK’s City of Culture will reach its theatrical apogee on September 20 with The Conquest of Happiness, a large-scale open-air show in the city’s Ebrington Square, directed by Haris Pasovic.
Pasovic, who famously produced Waiting for Godot during the Seige of Sarajevo, brought his East West company to Belfast a few years ago, sewing the seeds for his involvement in this production by Prime Cuts.
The Conquest of Happiness will use theatre, music and dance and a set made of army vehicles as it combines first-hand accounts and dramatisations of stories of conflict drawn from Northern Ireland, Chile, Bosnia, Palestine, Vietnam and elsewhere. Describing the spectacle, Pasovic says, “Theatre for me is about providing to the audience a new and exciting experience. My theatre is not a conventional one. It is bold, serious, funny, confronting. It is anything but boring.”
Pasovic’s long CV of spectacular shows includes a Romeo and Juliet that involved the army, an artificial lake, pyrotechnics and the closure of Sarajevo’s main street every night; and a Hamlet performed in a fortress on the Adriatic.
“Life is a large scale, isn’t it? Art has to be able to match life, to respond to the ever-changing forms of the world, to electrify the audience. We need the daring visions. To go to theatre must be different than to go to shopping. We adventure together, we journey through the mindful and emotional landscapes, we create together an event, unique and unrepeatable.”
For all its depiction of war, The Conquest of Happiness articulates the indomitability of the human spirit. The show takes its title from Bertrand Russell’s book of the same name, which is a kind of philosopher’s self-help book. That said, Pasovic assures us “there is nothing of a ‘high-brow’ intellectual approach here”. In his play, Russell, the aristocratic thinker and pacifist, is played by Cornelius Macarthy. “It is also very exciting to watch a black actor playing a white British legendary figure, Lord Russell,” says Pasovic. “It is inspirational as it is confronting... a new concept.”
After Belfast, The Conquest of Happiness will relocate to Mostar, Bosnia, and from there to Rijeka in Croatia and Ljubljana in Slovenia. “We will play in different cities and we will consider each site’s memory and include it in the show,” says Pasovic. “Ebrington has its own memory and the military convoy as a set is very truthful and powerful. The Old Bridge in Mostar, one of the most beautiful world heritage sites, was deliberately destroyed during the occupation. Now, it is rebuilt. Its beauty and memory will shape our show in a completely different way.”
Derry and Mostar, says Pasovic, “are like twins”. Both cities, he says, have populations who have “remained hopeful despite their dramatic histories”. Both are trying to translate division into diversity, a process Pasovic is aiming to dramatise in what promises to be a stunning night of theatre.
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