The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) opens this week, taking place over 50 days from 3 May to 21 June 2004 in venues as varied as the Laban Centre, the Science Museum, a London park, an allotment and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). As the mid-point in the five-year LIFT Enquiry, the programme of events reflects some of its findings to date.

LIFT's Enquiry (which was launched in 2001) was set up to explore how theatre affects creative thinking and understanding. One facet of this was the appointment of five 'evidencers', who include a neuroscientist, theatre directors, a teacher and an anthropologist. Their task was to explore the question: "How does theatre leave its mark on the audience?". They will publicly present their findings over the course of LIFT 04.

Despite the varied venues, the main base for LIFT 04: Enquiry is the Bargehouse, a four-storey space in the heart of the South Bank dubbed a 'theatre squat', which will house LIFT's trademark performances, films, installations and symposia as well as club nights, a bookshop and a café.

The biennial summer festival, started in 1981 by directors Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal, seeks to introduce groundbreaking theatre companies and practitioners from around the world onto the London arts scene. This year's event includes many contributions from Lebanon, in the form of the Laughter Program, in which the artists explore life in the wake of the civil war. Other contributors hail from Palestine, Italy and France as well as the UK.

This year's highlights include Societas Raffello Sanzio, by Romeo Castellucci, which opens the season. This is the London episode of a cycle of performances created specifically for ten European cities, and explores the nature of modern tragedy. There's also Group F's Jouers de Lumieres, an hour-long, open-air exploration of light in cities by Christopher Berthonneau.

Other performances include: My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: A History of the Car Bomb in the 1975-1991 Lebanese Wars from Walid Ra'ad's Atlas Group; Biokhraphia, a solo piece in which actress Lina Saneh interviews herself about the social and political taboos in Lebanese society; and Looking for Missing, written and performed by Rabih Mroue, which is based on the factual disappearance of a civil servant from the Lebanese Ministry of Finance. All of these are at the ICA.

Two LIFT commissioned pieces are also featured: The Living Image, a virtual reality installation at the Science Museum, and Feast, a year-long project celebrating the growing season, planned and grown by pupils at Rosendale primary school on an allotment in a collaboration with artists, a gardener and a chef.

There will also be visual arts installations at the Bargehouse, four separate film and video programmes and other talks and events. For further information, visit the festival website.

- by Hannah Kennedy