China is waiting for TARTUFFE. Koršunovas' interview for Chinese press

Last year the show Tartuffe, dir. Oskaras Koršunovas, has shaken the audience of international theatre festival in Avignon, France, and this year the show intends to conquer the sympathies of Chinese spectators. This weekend, the Lithuanian National Drama Theater’s comedy takes off for a month-long tour in China, visiting five big cities - the capital city of Beijing, the megapolis of Shanghai, the cities of Guangzhou and Quanzhou, and the port city of Xiamen. Even before the tour started, the Chinese media was actively interested in the Lithuanian performance. Director Oskaras Koršunovas gave an online interview to the Chinese journalists gathered together and several written responses were sent to China. One of the interviews given by O. Koršunovas to the organizers of the Shanghai Fake Festival, the Lithuanian National Drama Theater shares with Lithuanian readers.



Molière’s Tartuffe has been produced numerous times in European theatre. Have you seen any of the previous productions (by other company or directors) before creating your own version?

Yes, I have, but not too many, because there are not many good productions. Of course, I saw the play directed by a prominent French theater director Ariane Mnouchkine. Her interpretation of the play isn’t traditional. I have also seen a few performances at the Comédie-Française, which was founded as Moliere’s Theater and is still in line with the tradition. Since I have also directed a play at this theater, I was interested in the history of both Moliere and the theater. But the plays at Comédie-Française are very traditional, mostly based on the language. Just like the English, who direct Shakespeare’s plays based on the language and its beauty, so the French direct Moliere. His plays are very hard to translate into other languages. In French they sound really beautiful, poetic, and witty, but it is quite difficult to convey this to other language speakers. For the French, Moliere’s theater is first and foremost a theater of words. Therefore, the most interesting production of Moliere that I have seen was by is the famous German director Franco Castorf.


In your version of Tartuffe, the original text has been “smashed” (correct me if I am wrong) and modified. It sits within a much more contemporary context. How was the script (re-)written? Did you take reference from current affairs or media?


Everyone gets this impression that the text has been rewritten because the performance looks and sounds very modern. However, it is the original play, almost nothing was changed, except for the ending and a few invasive insertions that are a compilation of contemporary French philosophy. Now in Europe there is a tendency to rewrite the classic plays, the directors usually do it themselves, thinking they can do it better than the playwrights. It’s a popular trend, but it’s not something I do. In general, I think that this tendency to rewrite the classics has come from the creator’s  inability to speak using the means of expression of pure theater. When the creators do not know the language of the theater, they are unable to interpret classical texts in a modern way and then they begin to rewrite them, and the results, with rare exceptions, are very sad. In my version the text is Moliere’s.


The set design of Tartuffe is stunning. Is the artificial French Garden setting trying to offer an ironic portray of bourgeois aesthetics?

Yes. It's one of the aspects. It is also a certain historical reference because the tradition of such orchards and labyrinths began with Versailles. And Tartuffe was written especially for the opening of Versailles. In addition, it is a metaphor for human relationships and the search for truth. We are always lost in a labyrinth of lies, illusions, and frauds. An attempt to find the exit is an attempt to find the truth.


Molière’s play was once banned in his era. Today this dark comedy seems far more relevant than ever in a world filled with selfishness, post-truth and fake news. Back to reality, who would you think is (or are) the Tartuffe(s) in our societies nowadays?

The Tartuffes of our societies are political populists who are now propagating like locusts. In fact, those new populists, under the guise of values (just like Tartuffe), are pursuing quite different goals. Right-wing populists are destroying Europe, the very idea of Europe. That’s why Tartuffe was so well understood in Avignon, France. As a warning about the possible sunset of Europe that can be brought about by its Tartuffes.


You’ve chosen a “unhappy ending” for the play. Why? Is it because you are somehow pessimistic about the future?

I myself am not very pessimistic, but there is a clear threat and I think that the mission of all arts, including theater, is to warn people about the worst-case scenarios.


People are easily manipulated by propaganda (for instance, you mentioned Lithuania’s Liberal Party scandal in previous interviews) . Would you consider theatre an effective art form to fight against propaganda?

In Lithuania, for example, theater is still an effective tool. Our country is small and a performance can be a major debate-triggering event. By the way, Tartuffe did exactly this. In Moliere’s time, Tartuffe was the first play to have major international repercussions. France almost had a fallout with the Vatican. Nowadays, of course, one play cannot cause an international diplomatic crisis, but the overall cultural process has a huge impact. Europe still has a strong network of state theaters, independent theaters and festivals which, of course, has a big impact. I strongly believe that only culture has the power to save our civilization, not just Europe. I am talking about culture in a broad sense, but art is its cornerstone.


Tartuffe engaged anticipated discussions in Europe. Is that something that you expected while you were making the show? Do you read reviews of your works?

I do read, but I don’t always agree with what is being written. Performances do not always cause the kind of repercussions that the demonstration of Tartuffe in Avignon caused. Of course, in part it was thanks to a coincidence. On the other hand, I never have a clear idea who I am directing a play for, I have no specific audience or group of viewers in mind. I just become obsessed with those ideas and certain visions and wish to turn them into reality as soon as possible. That’s why I can’t stop creating when I’m obsessed with an idea, but usually this obsession becomes not only mine, but the entire team’s. And, of course, that obsession comes from none else than the society itself, because the artist is in a sense a transmitter. Although the director is an individualist, but in that individualism, universal things are always reflected, if this doesn’t happen, he is not a director.


Your works have toured in China before, what’s your perception of the touring experience in China? Would you think you’ve known the audience here a bit better after bringing several shows successfully here?


My experience in China has been very interesting. For the first time, we performed here in 2008: we showed Romeo and Juliet at the National Beijing Theater and were shocked because there was no reaction from the audience. We’ve been returning to China almost every year since 2008, so I’ve had the chance to watch huge cultural changes take place in this country. China is a wonderful example of how rewarding investing in culture can be. China has been investing heavily in theater, in the western theater, building new halls, inviting foreign artists, so in just a decade a whole new theater culture has been formed in China and it is very interesting. Meetings with the spectators are incredibly meaningful. By the way, in China we even have fans who, for example, see our show in Beijing, then go to see it Shanghai, and from Shanghai to Guangzhou. After the performances they wait for the actors and ask for their autographs. These are very curious, sensitive spectators. I mentioned the silence after Romeo and Juliet, but five years later, Hamlet received a fairly different reaction. Then we brought Cathedral, whose context is very Lithuanian and, strange as it may seem, it was understood here as well. Recently we have been traveling a lot with The Seagull. One girl even broke into the make-up room, grabbed Kostya Trepliov, burst into tears and said, “For you it’s just theater, but for me it's my life!” After this Martynas Nedzinskas, the actor who played Trepliov, said "I never thought I would meet Kostya Trepliov in the form of a petite Chinese lady". I always watch how the audience watches the performances. I saw young girls from China follow Nina’s story very closely, it was very relevant for them. Now, differently from before, people don’t go to China merely looking for exotica. We go to a country that has a profound theatrical culture, where meeting with the audience is important and interesting to us.


Finally, a slightly cliché question. What does theatre mean to you?