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Mark Ball on … Taking LIFT to the next level

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The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) is marking its 30th year in 2012 with an ambitious four-week programme that includes work from the Middle East, Australia, the US and Europe.

LIFT launched this week with the UK premiere of the cult Off Broadway hit Gatz, Elevator Repair Service's eight-houring staging of The Great Gatsby at the Noel Coward Theatre. The festival runs at venues all over the capital until 15 July.

Here Mark Ball, artistic director of the biennial festival since 2009, tells us what to expect from LIFT 2012....

We were very conscious when programming LIFT 2012 that we wanted to respond to the ambition of this once-in-a-lifetime year when the eyes of the world are on London. We wanted to present the idea that the world is in London and the world comes to London, and we also wanted to reveal things about London to the world. But that relationship between global and the local has always been a very important part of our programming.

As an organisation LIFT has always been absolutely passionate about the place of theatre in revealing issues, in unpicking politics, in shining a light onto some of the darkest corners of the world, in telling us things that we didn't know.

There's a huge strand of work here from the Middle East that represents a response to the unleashing of creativity that's happened since the Arab Spring. It's work which tells us about what is happening in one of the most important geo-political areas of the world. Theatre is such an extraordinary artform for allowing us to really focus in on the similarities between human relationships, whether in the Middle East or the UK.

There's also a strong body of work which is focused on revealing London, on engaging international artists to help us see the familiar in a completely different way. It's work that takes us into the city, that uncovers the city, that shows us the city in a different light, whether that's Motor Show, which will take place in a desolate wasteland overlooking the Greenwich Peninsula, or You Once Said Yes, which takes you down the backstreets of Camden and Chalk Farm.

There's also a strong focus on participation, which has always been a very important part of LIFT's work, particularly in providing more marginalised communities with the opportunity to have a voice. Unfinished Dream, the project that's happening in Croydon predominantly with the refugee community and produced and directed by the brilliant Iranian director, Hamid Pourazari, is a fantastic example.

That sense of real ambition extends to Gatz too. This is the year when can take a piece of event theatre into the West End, the first time we've ever done so. When I joined LIFT in 2009 I was conscious of coming into an organisation with a history of incredibly pioneering and important work, but that over the past 10 years our influence had slightly waned.

We needed to be really bold and ambitious to bring focus back onto the organisation. I think a lot of the work we do deserves and demands big audiences. So I think the festival that we're seeing this year, which is big, bold and ambitious, is a sign of more things to come.


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