No matter how rich the cultural life of a city is, the door that often remains firmly shut for many expats behind a language barrier, is the door to the local theater stage. Luckily, Lisbon offers not one but two English theater companies: The Lisbon Players and JÁ International Theatre.
Both companies offer distinct experiences and are well worth checking out.
The Lisbon Players, established in 1947, has deep roots in the historical fabric of the city (which testify for the ancient ties between the UK and Portugal). Originally a non-profit organisation, The Lisbon Players was founded as a theater primarily by and for British expats but has grown into a highly inclusive international community that warmly welcomes anyone interested in English-speaking theatre.
Run entirely by volunteers, it relies on the active involvement and enthusiastic support of Portuguese Lisboetas.
Suresh Nampuri, a theatre director stirring up the English-speaking theatre scene since his arrival in Lisbon in 2015 and current member of the The Lisbon Players management committee, fondly recounts his first encounter with The Lisbon Players:
I was fresh off the boat from South Africa, and found that they were advertising for directors for the new season. From the moment I walked into the quaint little theatre lobby painted a fetching red, I knew I had a home. Right from my first production with them, “Antigone,” the Lisbon Players’ atmosphere of selfless generosity, both in terms of talent and time by professionals and amateurs alike, was palpable in extremes and continues to bewitch every person who walks into a LP production to date.
The Lisbon Players went through a rough patch recently. In 2020, this welcoming company of players had to give up the small and charming theatre space, Estrela Hall, which it used over 70 years until it closed. This was coupled with the pandemic, which put a damper on things; however, recently, the company has been picking up its activities.
“With our comfort zone of having our very own permanent space gone, we had no guardrails to prevent us from taking bold leaps of theatrical expression – here was an unparalleled opportunity to reinvent ourselves on the cultural map and spread our wings both in terms of repertoire and audiences”, Suresh says.
Nowadays, The Lisbon Players performances can be found on different stages throughout the city. If you are looking to see a classic brought on stage as a labour of love and unstinting earnestness, this company’s seasonal line-up will contain some gems. And who knows, maybe you will feel inspired to be part of the noble craft of creating theatre with The Lisbon Player.
JÁ International Theatre
JÁ International Theatre is a theatrical and visual arts company for radical and experimental theatre. Suresh Nampuri resurfaces here as one of the co-founders of the company that has been enriching Lisbon’s theater scene since 2017.
He calls JÁ a laboratory where new artistic approaches are tried out, different media cross-merged and unusual spaces explored. “One of our unwritten rules is that we either premier an original play or a classic that is adapted, rewritten or transformed to reflect an original conception”, Suresh adds. An excellent example of this working philosophy is the online theatrical adaptation of Chekov’s “Swan Song” that premiered at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Even though Suresh emphasizes that JÁ is primarily “a gym for actors” that just happens to have performances, I know from first-hand experience that a visit to a JÁ show is guaranteed to be far from dull. Some of the performances are raw, others are polished, but all of them are surprising and thought-provoking.
Just like The Lisbon Players currently, JÁ is light on its feet, and instead of the conventional approach of staging a whole season in one fixed theatre space, they prefer to stage each show in a specifically chosen venue. Case in point, their latest radical adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic “Huis Clos” (No Exit) premieres in March at the National Museum of Natural History and Sciences.
If you want to get a taste of JÁ’s work, you might want to check out the programming for their upcoming festival of theatre, visual arts and literature in April in Lisbon, supported by a Europa Creativa grant.
Read more here about Lisbon here in Dispatches’ archives
Miriam Thaler is a PhD student in Culture Studies in Lisbon. Exploring foreign places and getting to know different people, their stories, ways of life and worldviews has always been her passion. After finishing school she lived and worked as a volunteer for one year in the South of Chile.
Her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology brought her to Munich and Paris. Iceland called her during her Masters for an ethnographic research stay and the shooting of a documentary.