Birmingham Repertory Theatre's BE FESTIVAL 2016 is a week-long mix of European theatre, dance, music, art and performance. Now in its seventh year, the festival features 24 visiting European companies in an eclectic mix of productions for all ages.
Launching this year's festival was Italian company TiDA whose work Piccole Donne (little women) is a blend of dance and comedy.
In some ways Piccole Donne is almost like two separate shows and yet the two pieces carry through themes, motifs and images largely around the themes of identity, womanhood and the symbolism of the white wedding.
To begin with, the stage is dark and, under spotlights, we see naked forms moving in and out of shade to a soundscape of religious chant. There is something eerie, even menacing, about the forms as they crawl in the dimness, at times human and at others almost animal. Gradually the forms build up their identity and become clothed in flowing white wedding dresses.
Suddenly it's as though the ground shifts and Piccole Donne becomes a comedy of manners with the expectations, traditions and formulae of the modern wedding sent up with a series of farcical sketches. We see the three brides, one incidentally a man, attempting but mistaking the wedding speech. Then we see them trying to arrange the room as each sabotages each other's ideal setting. Then in an almost deranged frenzy there is a panic to make sure the wedding is just right – with the irony being that while there is a cake, Champagne and glasses the groom is missing.
Mixing comedy and tragedy, levity and sadness, these final scenes mock but also pity the modern pressure for the perfect wedding. TiDA took home the BE FESTIVAL 1st Prize Award for their work Quintetto last year which won them a residency and grant to help create Piccole Donne. This performance in Birmingham was the premiere and in many ways Piccole Donne feels like it's still not fully formed. Packed with ideas, energy and enthusiasm, there's a sense that they're not quite sure how to bring all of this together in a clear vision.
But as a launch to a festival which promises many different works, it certainly left the audience with plenty to think about. For full details on the festival see www.befestival.org.