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:

WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORDS “GERMAN THEATRE”?

Qu1Survey_MiriamSherwood

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

Platonov – The Premiere

The final Theatertreffen 2012 production to premiere is the black sheep of the family. All its other relatives have been and gone, throwing paint on the bare walls of their sets, chatting to their audiences and, in certain isolated incidents (that crazy Uncle Vinge), urinating on their actors. Now all of a sudden, Platonov shows up and rocks the boat with the ultimate rebellion: Naturalism.
(Well, the definition of “naturalism” is highly debated, but in the case of Chekhov I’ll take an old-school one from the first main spokesperson for the style, author Emile Zola: “We simply take from life the story of a being or group of beings whose acts we faithfully set down. The work becomes an official record, nothing more; its only merit is that of exact observation.”)
As the audience entered the theatre, they probably rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Rather than using the text as a loose structure or idea on which to base the production, director Hermanis has read Chekhov’s stage directions, and Monika Pormale has translated them onto the stage in an “exact observation.”  We see a large room, connected through one central door to a terrace and garden on the one side, and separated from a dining room on the other by a wall of transparent doors. Both of these extra spaces are somewhat obscured from the audience’s sight. I’m no expert on late 19th Century Russian furniture, but it certainly seemed like every detail of the set and costumes was historically accurate.
Here’s a rudimentary idea of what it looks like:

Platonov set design, Doodle: Miriam Sherwood
Continue reading Platonov – The Premiere

Opening: Gesäubert/Gier/4.48 Psychose

Elongated paper lanterns suspended over the auditorium of the Berliner Festspiele’s main stage added a little visual interest to the opening night’s obligatory speeches: Thomas Oberender, artistic director of the Festspiele, in praise of the 10 productions and the jury that chose them, and Bernd Neumann, Minister of State for Culture and Media, emphatically preaching the importance of theatre even in times of economic crisis (Q: Does Germany need so many theatres? A: Yes, yes, and YES again). Continue reading Opening: Gesäubert/Gier/4.48 Psychose