Festival Universatil,

Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium,

February 5-23



Louvain-la-Neuve, one of Europe’s youngest cities in terms of its creation and its demographic, was born out of high drama when the French and Dutch speakers at Belgium’s oldest university Leuven in Flanders found their differences could no longer be reconciled.

The French speakers were forced to decamp roughly 30 kilometres to create in 1971 the city of Louvain-la-Neuve, now home to the Université Catholique de Louvain.

Apart from the rarity of a city specifically built to house a university, the turmoil also led to a style of student living, known as the kot à projet (KAP).

The students in a KAP live together and work together on a cultural or community project, one of which is Le Théâtre Universitaire de Louvain, which every year organises the “Universatil” festival of French-language drama.

The 24th edition will run from February 5 for three weeks, and explores contemporary anxieties such as depression, bias, discrimination and coming out.  Three of the plays have been written for the festival by students.  “Les 8 Pommiers Capiteux”, a reference to the seven deadly sins, adds an eighth – disinformation that leads humans to continue to sin.  “8 Humains en Colère” is an adaptation of the film “12 Angry Men” and “Hier encore, je serai désolé” (literally, yesterday still, I will be sorry) is a troubled love story.

There is also a visiting play, performed by students from Paris-Nanterre: “399 Secondes” by French dramatist Fabrice Melquiot.

In the space of 399 seconds, the time of a solar eclipse, four people are heading to Shanghai, where they plan to die during the eclipse, two are lovers, like Orpheus and Eurydice, in the world of the dead, while a woman stabs a woman over a stolen bicycle and two brothers attempt to steal Munch’s “Scream” as a gift for their sister who does not speak.

If that all sounds rather heavy, because this is Belgium, there is a bar to restore your spirits, stocked with the help of artisanal brewer Bertinchamps, based in nearby Gembloux.

“We try to keep our beer menu the most local and responsible and also try to propose something different to what students usually drink in Louvain-la-Neuve,” said Brendan Jacobs, president of the organising committee.  He could almost be summing up the philosophy of the festival.

Consumption by the theatre crowd is relatively moderate compared with that at Louvain-la-Neuve’s annual 24 cycling event, organised by another KAP, when the volume of beer drunk is allegedly second only to that at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

Barbara Lewis © 2024.