Can’t afford a European holiday this summer? Not to worry, because the Continent is coming to Birmingham.
Theatre-goers will be able to see the cream of European theatre without even leaving the city.
The BE Festival brings together daring new performances from Spain, Italy, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland and Germany, among others, as 85 artists from 12 countries perform.
The festival is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a new home at the Birmingham Rep and has been doubled in length to two weeks.
When it began, it had 60 applications from artists wanting to put on productions. This year, it had 600.
Among the highlights are the toppling of thousands of dominoes to represent the chain of events that started the First World War – and an interactive comedy about tennis.
There are dancers from Hungary, Poland and Italy.
Then there’s political work about genocide, from the Nazi Holocaust to those who disappeared under the Argentinian dictatorship.
The festival will take over the Rep next month and turn the theatre back to front.
Audiences will come in via the back doors in Cambridge Street, into the set construction workshop which will be turned into The Hub, a relaxed area with a bar, sofas and maybe even a ping pong table to watch music and cabaret.
Performances take place in The Studio and The Door, while the paintshop will become an exhibition space.
As for the main stage, that will become a pop-up restaurant.
Dining in the interval is as much an attraction as each night’s four 30-minute long shows.
That’s when everyone, audience and artists, gets to eat dinner on long trestle tables set up on the main stage. It’s a chance to chat with a stranger and get to know people.
The menu is provided by Blanch & Shock Food Design, which uses food to illustrate ideas. The international cuisine includes Toulouse-style sausage stew and roast seven-spice goat.
The BE Festival began life in a disused metal pressings factory in the Jewellery Quarter, AE Harris, which is now manufacturing again, leaving it homeless until the Rep stepped in to help.
The Rep’s executive director, Stuart Rogers, admits he has been encouraging the festival to make up for missing out on its launch.
“I am admitting a guilty secret,” he says.
“When the first festival was held in 2010, I had the choice of going to a performance of European theatre at AE Harris or going to a pub by the canal on a lovely summer’s night.
“To my eternal shame, I chose the pub.
“But I have tried to make up for it every year since by seeing virtually everything and putting performers up in my house.
“We have tried to support the festival with its development and were keen to give it a new home, although we were concerned about how to retain the atmosphere in a more formal venue.
“But then they came up with this imaginative way to use the theatre.
“BE is about bringing young artists to the city. They have fantastic energy, enthusiasm and commitment which shines through.
“The organisers have built it up from nothing to a recognised and well respected festival on the international scene.”
Festival co-director Miguel Ozayzun, who hails from Spain, says: “We have come a long way in a short period of time. We had 600 applications this year, 10 times more than the first year.
“It’s also been extended to two weeks.
“The festival has helped put Birmingham on the map for theatre companies across Europe.
“Our aim was to bring as much international work to Birmingham as possible and also to create a festival where the borders were crossed.
“That very much the ethos of the festival – work that crosses disciplines, languages and the boundary between the audience and the artist.
“We are trying to offer the audience an experience which goes beyond the theatre.
“They will have the opportunity to attend free workshops and discussions in the daytime, exhibitions, and shows at night.”
The theme of the festival is alternative currencies – how we give value to money and how we value art.
At some performances, audiences will be given their ticket price back, plus generous interest, in the form of Rep pounds to spend on other shows in the theatre’s autumn and winter season.
Birmingham’s own Stan’s Cafe present Finger, Trigger, Bullet, Gun, toppling a chain of dominoes to represent the lead-up to the First World War and a Bosnian Serb pulling the trigger of a gun and killing an Archduke.
This is presented as a double bill with Next Door, a comedy by Danish company Out of Balanz.
Dadara from the Netherlands present One Minute of Time 4 Yourself – one minute of silence to mourn all the time we have wasted.
The nine members of Berlin-based Theater am Tisch, who come from Germany, Spain, Italy and Australia, perform the intimate Getaway. Anna Peschke plays Ilsa, a concentration camp doctor and ‘She-Wolf of the SS’, in a dark piece which explores the appeal of German Fascism.
Beating McEnroe by the UK’s Jamie Wood relives the final point of that epic Wimbledon final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. It involves the audience, who can get up on stage to play tennis.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a Spanish piece presenting a B-movie alien mash-up, while the Italian company MK invite 20 local people to rehearse with them and then perform their piece Impressions d’Afrique.
* The BE Festival runs from July 2-12. For tickets call 0121 236 4455 or go to www.birmingham-rep.co.uk