Avignon theatre festival returns a year after coronavirus claimed 2020 edition

·2-min read

The 75th Avignon theatre festival returned to its spiritual home in the main courtyard of the Palais des Papes on Monday.

The opening production, The Cherry Orchard, directed by Tiago Rodrigues, will be performed in the Cour d'honneur, with French actress Isabelle Huppert as guest star.

"It's a chance in an actress's life," said Huppert in an interview on Sunday with Le Parisien newspaper, more than 20 years after she first performed at the Palais des Papes.

After the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, festival organisers said strict health measures would be in force until the event ends on 25 July.

"It has been a fight but I did not do it alone," festival director Olivier Py told RFI. "I did it with the prefecture and the town hall of Avignon and we have an almost normal festival."

Masks will be compulsory in the city between 12pm and 10pm. A "health pass" will also be needed to enter the Cour d'honneur, the only place to welcome more than 1,000 spectators.

Theatre owners will be required to ventilate their venues for at least 40 minutes between two shows.

Boost

A boost came for the world-renowned gathering in June when Emmanuel Macron's government lifted capacity limits on most public spaces, meaning venues would be allowed to sell all their remaining seats.

"We can offer the public the full capacity, which is particularly large this year, as there are 20,000 extra seats for sale," added Py who will be succeeded by Rodrigues from 2023.

The 44-year-old will take over on the back of a meteoric rise at at Lisbon's Dona Maria II national theatre where his work has made him one of the most sought-after directors in Europe.

Avignon's "in" festival, which will boast 21 venues and 50 shows, is sold out, said organisers.

However, tickets for the "off" festival - expanded from 1,070 shows in 2019 to 1,600 this year - are still available.

Sébastien Benedetto, the head of the organisation running the "off" festival, told the French news agency AFP: "We don't know how it will go. There is always the threat of the Delta variant but the prefect is careful about all that and the theatres too."

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