At a press conference held at the Barbican yesterday, Young Vic artistic director David Lan and Louise Jeffreys, the Barbican’s head of theatre responsible for BITE (Barbican International Theatre Events), launched a new festival celebrating the early work of established playwrights and stage luminaries.

Over the course of the 12-week event running from 16 September to 10 December, Young Genius will feature performances of early pieces by playwrights including Robert Lepage and Christopher Marlowe, as well as innovative shows by theatre artists including dreamthinkspeak. The aim of the event is to bring together the audiences of both theatres leading the project, as well as encouraging new audiences, to inspire a younger generation of theatre-makers and artists.

Young Genius was a concept sparked by discussions between the two organisations, which formed an alliance - described by the Barbican artistic director Graham Sheffield as “the mother of all partnerships” - when the Young Vic’s South Bank home closed for its two-year redevelopment (See News, 24 Feb 2004). At the launch of Young Genius, Sheffield said: “There comes a time for most of us when, a) we realise we are no longer young, b) we realise we are not going to be a young genius, c) we realise we are probably not ever going to be any sort of genius, so d) what’s the point?” He continued: “Young Genius is ambitious. It is so much more than a series of great evenings in the theatre. It is inspirational and innovative.”

Lan shared his excitement about the project and hope that it would encourage today’s young theatrical geniuses. He said: “One of the joys of being artistic director of the Young Vic is working with young artists, people in the early stages of their careers, actors, directors and writers. We have been through 20 years of people telling us theatre will die, so to me, it is a kind of wonder that day after day, year after year, there are more and more young people wanting to come and learn more about the theatre.”

He added: “Young Genius celebrates the brilliance and resonance young artists can achieve. We hope that seeing all this work in one season will be a spur, an inspiration and a delight.” Jeffreys agreed. “There is so much youthful energy and vibrancy in the plays we have selected,” she said.

Young Genius begins at the Barbican on 16 September 2005 with Canadian playwright Robert Lepage’s cult epic, The Dragon’s Trilogy, which he wrote at the age of 27. It runs until 25 September at the Barbican Theatre. Following that, from 28 September to 8 October in the Pit, is The Lion and the Jewel by Africa’s most prominent dramatist, Wole Soyinka, who penned the subversive comedy at the age of 23. Soyinka became the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont, who succeeded Shakespeare as chief dramatist to The King’s Men, opens in the Barbican Theatre on 29 September and runs to 8 October 2005. The madcap comedy, described as the Monty Python of its day, stars Rafe Spall (son of actor Timothy Spall, as the ubiquitous knight.

From 10 to 19 October 2005, experimental theatre company dreamthinkspeak presents Underground, a creation inspired by Tolstoy’s Crime and Punishment, which sets up scenes in the Old Abattoir, Clerkenwell, for the audience to explore at their leisure. The company’s acclaimed promenade production Don’t Look Back took theatregoers through the underground passages of Somerset House in London last summer.

Iceland’s Vesturport (whose aerial Romeo and Juliet was a hit at the Young Vic in 2003, transferring to the West End last year) will perform Woyzeck, a story charting the downfall of a simple man which was written in the 1830s by a 23-year-old Georg Buchner, who died before completing it. It’s at the Barbican Theatre from 12 to 22 October 2005.

The youngest of the young geniuses, meanwhile, will be entertained by live performance, dance, puppetry and video by theatre-rites in their show, The Thought That Counts in The Pit theatre from 26 October to 5 November, while Michael Clark reprises his acclaimed modern dance piece, O, at the Barbican Theatre from 1 to 5 November. Following that, Greg Hicks stars in Tamburlaine, which is adapted and directed by David Farr. After a run at Bristol Old Vic from 11 October to 29 October, the play will be at the Barbican from 9 to 19 November. Christopher Marlowe was only 23 when he wrote the original epic in 1587.

From 16 to 19 November a radical and violent retelling of Seneca’s tragedy, Phaedra’s Love by Sarah Kane, will be at The Pit, following a season from 24 October to 5 November at Bristol Old Vic. The tale of incest and destruction was written by Kane at the age of 25. Gerry Mulgrew stars in Alfed Jarry’s first and most influential play, Ubu the King, written when he was just 14, at The Pit from 30 November to 10 December 2005. Packed with schoolboy humour and bad language, the story of lust, power, greed and betrayal explores the lives of two elderly megalomaniacs.

Throughout the Young Genius season, there will also be rehearsed readings of work by playwrights from Aristophanes to Farquhar and Brecht. Other talks include one introducing the concept of genius, with David Lan and Louise Jeffreys. The season is presented in collaboration with leading UK theatres in Bristol, Birmingham, Dundee, Glasgow, Salisbury, Oxford and West Yorkshire, as well as international theatres where many of the plays received their premieres.

- by Caroline Ansdell