The renowned French writer and director Olivier Py has staged one of the most daring paraphrases of Hamlet at the Avignon Festival, which he managed as artistic director until last year.
Py re-translated the play and transformed it into his own new text. His Hamlet is based on key scenes, monologues and characters from the original work, and the characters engage in dialogue with the great thinkers of past centuries.
Not, however, in a sombre or serious way, but rather in the language of humour, as befits the atmosphere of a summer open-air performance, using the tools of the style of theatre seen at fairs. Py sets Hamlet free, and Hamlet sets him and his actors free.
The new piece is a reflection not only on Shakespeare’s play, but also on the nature of the theatre and its role in society. Py argues that, in Hamlet, Shakespeare had man confront his own freedom. And because this is both tragic and beautiful, he wrote it all such a way that, in spite of their shock, the audience can still laugh at the gravediggers’ jokes.
Born in Grasse in 1965, Olivier Py came to Paris after secondary school. After a year of khâgne at the lycée Fénelon, he joined the Conservatoire national supérieur d’art dramatique in 1987 while also studying theology.
The next year, he wrote his first play, Des Oranges et des Ongles (Of Oranges and Nails), and founded the company L’inconvénient des boutures. In 1995, he made his mark on the Festival d’Avignon with his direction of his text The Servant, a cycle of plays lasting twenty-four hours.
In 1997, he became director of the Centre dramatique national d’Orléans, which he left in 2007 for the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe. In 2013, he became the first theatre director to be named director of the Festival d’Avignon since Jean Vilar.
A director for the theatre, the opera, and the cinema, but also an actor and poet, Oliver Py is a prolific author. As a politically-minded artist, he has directed many plays at the heart of which lies the political word, like Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, and The Persians, William Shakespeare’s King Lear, as well as personal texts like Les Vainqueurs (The Victors), Orlando, or the Impatience, or Die Sonne for the Volksbühne. Every since Le Cahier noir (The Black Notebook), a first novel written when he was seventeen and published in 2015, he has written many texts in many different genres: plays, children’s fiction, essays, introductions, translations, screenplays, etc.
In 2017 he adapted one of his novels for the stage for the second time after Excelsior (Hacia la alegria) with The Parisians; he also showed the audience of the Festival d’Avignon a little-known aspect of his work with Hamlet and Antigone, two plays performed by inmates from the Avignon-Le Pontet prison in which he has led a drama workshop for over five years.
In 2018, he wrote and directed Pure Present, a tragic and contemporary trilogy which, for the first time in his career, directly tackled the question of the world of finance and of the dehumanisation of markets. As a follow-up, he started writing an operetta based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, a show aimed at children telling them to believe in their desires.
Love Triumphant will be performed at the 73rd edition of the Festival d’Avignon with very little technical means, a theatre at once uncompromising and full of lyricism and hope. Regardless of the place, regardless of the stage, Olivier Py regularly speaks about cultural policy in France and throughout the world, against the rise of extremism and the restriction of liberties, and for greater social justice as well as a renewed sense of hospitality.
In 2021, the Hamlet in the Imperative! adventure fulfills two of Olivier Py's dreams: to stage a free outdoors dramatic series in the garden of the bibliothèque Ceccano, with both amateur and professional actors; and to present a radically new reading of the "Hamlet continent".
In 2022, for his last creation as artist-director of the Festival d'Avignon, Olivier Py returns to the epic. My exalted youth serves as a mirror to La Servante which, in 1995, marked the beginning of his adventure with this exceptional institution. Lasting over 10 hours, My exalted youth is a show of trust in the audience of the Festival, always ready to experience great epics.
Wherever the venue, whatever the stage, Olivier Py regularly speaks out on cultural policy in France and in the world, against the rise of extremism and attacks on freedom, and for greater social justice and a revived sense of hospitality.