I Beg Your Pardon: A Survey of the British Perspective on German Theatre

Pretzel or Royal headgear. Andre Schurrle moving to Chelsea. How to properly translate Paddington Bear. Just a few of the highly controversial debates causing sparks to fly between the Germans and the Brits these days.

Yet tonight sees the Theatertreffen premiere of Night Train, a Schauspiel Köln and 59 Productions adaptation of Friederike Mayröcker’s poetry which dispels any doubt that a German-British collaboration is not only possible, but capable of being “remarkable.”

And despite being by definition the most German of German theatre festivals, Night Train’s director Katie Mitchell and dramaturgs Duncan Macmillan and Lyndsey Turner aren’t the first Brits to be included at the Theatertreffen. Last year alone featured three British playwrights: Dennis Kelly opened the Stückemarkt with the memorable speech “Why political theatre is a complete fucking waste of time,” Pamela Carter nabbed the Stückemarkt commission prize (see the result for yourself on Friday 17th at the Maxim Gorki Studio), and Simon Stephens just missed out on a coveted Top Ten spot in the line-up with the German-British-Estonian production of his Three Kingdoms.

Clearly the Brits are infiltrating. But what do they really think of German theatre? I asked directors, playwrights, critics, actors and academics from across the UK to answer four simple questions. Here’s what they said:



Continue reading I Beg Your Pardon: A Survey of the British Perspective on German Theatre


Or Five Things I Learned From Sebastian Nübling

Keynote Speech at the opening of Stückemarkt 2011 on 8th May 2011 at Haus der Berliner Festspiele.

The British playwright Simon Stephens. Photo: Piero Chiussi

I have to confess something rather embarrassing. The title of this lecture is SKYDIVING BLINDFOLDED. I’m sure there are some people who are speculating as to why I’ve decided to call this lecture by that name. In what way is it to be an exploration of the suicidal or the daredevil? The unsighted and the insane? I have to confess that I don’t really exactly know why myself. All I can say is that it was suggested to me that I deliver a lecture with the title “Infinite Diversity in New European Writing”. The idea filled me with an odd mix of boredom and horror. So I invented a new title quickly without really knowing what it meant. So it doesn’t mean anything. So don’t expect me to explain why this lecture is called SKYDIVING BLINDFOLDED. Because I won’t. Because I don’t know why myself.

I gave it a sub-title yesterday which is more thematically relevant and which will form the body of the talk. The sub-title is FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM SEBASTIAN NÜBLING. For those of you who don’t know, Sebastian is a German theatre director based in Basel in Switzerland. He directed the first German language production of any of my plays in 2003, has directed three other productions since and opens a fifth this Autumn in Tallinn and Munich. He’s taught me a lot of things over the seven years of our collaboration. I’m going to share five of them with you. In a bit. Continue reading SKYDIVING BLINDFOLDED

U – S – A!

A German, a Pole, a Romanian, and an Englishman sit down for a discussion in front of an audience in Berlin.

From left to right: Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk, Peca Ştefan and Simon Stephens. Foto von Piero Chiussi.

What language do they speak? English, of course. I don’t imagine that you had to guess.

“How embarrassing. This is the nature of colonialism. But at least I can blame America!”

British playwright Simon Stephens (Christmas, Pornography, The Trial of Ubu, and quoted above) gave the keynote address at the opening of the 30th Theatertreffen Stückemarkt (play market) this afternoon. Though he’s widely produced internationally, especially in Germany, he can’t speak any languages other than his imperialist own. Luckily, everybody speaks passable English and they’re willing to humor him (and the rest of us Anglophones). Even though the German, Pole, and Romanian playwrights also on stage – Stefan Schmidtke, Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk (2011 Stückemarkt invitee), and Peca Ştefan (2010 invitee) – are perhaps more comfortable with Russian.

I, for one, am glad not to have to learn Russian to get around in the world. “U – S – A!” But back to the keynote address.

Stephens has learned five things by having his plays staged in Germany by director Sebastian Nübling, watching his crafted dialog disappear into incomprehensible babble. You can read about these five points in his speech, posted here (preview: the German theater “may be loosely defined as swimming in a surprising amount of both blood and sperm.”)

Addressing the necessity of international productions for playwrights, to close the debate that followed his speech, Stephens said, “What we do as writers is try to tell a story that helps us to understand ourselves and our relationship to society. When I travel, the world shifts. And I try to bring that into my plays.” His advice to young playwrights is to travel and to think like a soccer/football player: Don’t think too far ahead. Just pass the play, take the shot. “If you think about your career, you’re fucked. All you can do is write your next play, make the next line as good as possible.”

And try to get your work translated into English, of course.

Quasi-Live-Blog der Pressekonferenz

Herbert Fritsch redet sich hinter den Tulpen hervor. Foto: Yehuda Swed

Baustelle, Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Derzeit staubt es noch hier und da, die Kabel hängen aus der Decke, bis zur Eröffnung des Theatertreffens am Freitag ist alles fertig, frisch renoviert. W-Lan gibt es erst ab morgen, daher stelle ich meine Aufzeichnungen der Pressekonferenz erst nachträglich ins Blog. Fotos folgen.

12:55 Die Stühle für die Pressekonferenz stehen. Ein paar lila Lampignons hängen über den Köpfen der baldigen Verkünder der frohen Theatertreffen-Botschaften.

12:56 Ein erstes Murmeln geht durch den Raum, nachdem sich die Journalisten durch die Baustelle des Theatertreffens gekämpft haben.

12:58 Jagoda Engelbrecht, die Pressechefin der Berliner Festspiele, akkreditiert und busserlt Journalisten.

13:00 Herbert Fritsch, der Star des Theatertreffens, plaudert mit Berliner Festspielleiterin Iris Laufenberg. Er trägt einen grauen Anzug zu einem braunen (!) Hemd. Continue reading Quasi-Live-Blog der Pressekonferenz