The Sleeping Room – Macbeth Audience Discussion

“I have lost all hope,” announced Stefan Merki as Macduff, three quarters of the way through Karin Henkel’s Macbeth. “Me too,” came the indignant response from a voice from the row behind me. Whilst not a fan of attention-seeking audience members, I was inclined to agree at this point. Witches dressed in diamante-studded figure-skating outfits, Macbeth and Banquo singing to each other, and an empty, generic house-shaped set proclaiming itself to be the “sleeping room” (Schlafender Raum), all were not completely without interest, but they left me cold. It seemed I wasn’t alone; a few soft boos accompanied the applause at the end of the show.

The Sleeping Room, Photo: Miriam Sherwood


So all signs were pointing towards an exciting post-show audience discussion – after all, often it’s not the actors who deserve the booing. Sure enough, quite a number of audience members stayed to hear the director and set designer, as well as the cast, take part in the discussion, but many didn’t seem to want to commit to a Macbeth Part 2, choosing instead to linger on the side and leave around half the seats empty.

Things continued in this half-hearted vein. For one, it could hardly be described as an audience discussion: rather than opening for questions from the start, host Tobi Müller for the first half hour asked his own questions regarding the role of the “sleeping room,” the function of the witches, and the already much-debated gender-bending aspects of the production. Jana Schulz was prompted for the umpteenth time to explain that she didn’t approach the role of Macbeth in terms of gender, from a woman’s perspective, but in terms of the character, from a human being’s perspective.

Nevertheless, Henkel added that she did see the playing with gender roles as an important theme in the production, reflecting not only the imagery in Shakespeare’s original (“unsex me here” says Lady Macbeth, for instance, and she asks her husband “Are you a man?”) but also highlighting the idea of confusion and disorder in the play – “fair is foul and foul is fair” was her motto.

Director Karin Henkel answers, Photo: Nadine Loes

When the audience finally did get the chance to ask their own questions, it seemed that there wasn’t enough time to properly answer them. Particularly those interested in how the dialogue between director and stage designer worked in the early stages of the production were left pretty much none the wiser.

Henkel did provide an insight into the decision to have the actors speak in their own languages as well as in German. Not only did it make the most of the cast’s international roots, it was simply a useful means of delineating the many different roles that all the actors (barring Schulz) were playing.

After one audience member announced that the style of the production (light-hearted and energetic) contradicted everything the script called for (war and bloodlust), actor Benny Claessens replied that the play wasn’t just about butchery, and that it was high time for a smoke in the Theatertreffen garden. Discussion closed and time for bed.

  1. I find it quite irritating to ask Jana Schulz the same question for the umpteenth time. On the other hand it stresses that gender is an issue and someone who does not fit in gets punished. In this case with questions.

    • Yeah, it’s also interesting that the question is always addressed to Schulz and not to the other actors who all play both genders at some point in the play. Especially considering Schulz is almost unrecognizable as a woman in the role; I think that really backs up her statement that she plays Macbeth as a person and not as a woman.

      • Excellently put! I have to admit I haven’t even thought about your point concerning the other actors and their role-play. Which leads me to the question, why men playing women are usually considered as being hilarious. Quite derogatory.

  2. hi, it’s the host. for tt-newbies: the job of the host is to, well, host the panel, in german: moderieren. that means: ask questions. if you consider my asking questions and not opening up the panel until 25 minutes into the discussion (which is quite soon by tt standards) too narcissistic, you do not get the idea of a panel, it seems to me. if you would like to start with questions from the audience right away, you do not need a host (fine with me, but not my problem in this case. I am PAID to ask questions here). then, let us get the facts straight: the first time gender bending was addressed, we talked about the witches (and Stefan Merki took the mike), and not Macbeth. also, what I did ask Schulz was how they approached the gender bending in terms of stereotyping during the rehearsals (stereotyping, or parody, as Judith Butler would put it, who is quoted in the programme brochure). frankly I do not know if this was the „umpteenth“ time this question was asked. do you? does the audience? and, who is the audience, who do you like to cater to with this? the forum, whose two speaking members did not even get the mere basics of the gender discussion at stake, in the original play nor on the panel? and, as the artists confirmed: the gender aspect is absolutely central to this staging, stating that you do not think it important whether a role is played by a male or female actor,is simply ignorant to the work of art that was being discussed (do not mix up your private ideas with the ideas the work is offering: I am afraid this is what I would call narcissistic, or put more mildly: rather limited). cheers!

    • Hi Tobi!

      I’m sorry if you interpreted my post as an attack on you, that wasn’t my intention at all.

      I felt it was a pity that there was only time for three questions from the audience, and I would have been interested to see if the themes that you highlighted, from the position of having seen the production more than once, would have come up of their own accord from the audience.

      As for the gender issue, as you say, and as I said in my post, the discussion covered it thoroughly, particularly Henkel’s justification of the casting and multi-role decisions. Still it seems to me that it always comes back to Jana Schulz in the lead role – in this case I kept my own personal opinion to the comments.

      But I have to say, sharing “private ideas” is what a blog does. It’s my job to have an opinion at the Theatertreffen, limited or not. The most exciting part is when that opinion gets a response or starts a debate, so thanks for your comment!

      • thanks for your reply. I agree, the discussion should have lasted a bit longer. however, it was an actor whoended it. because he was pissed at the two identical questions from the forum, which really weren’t questions at all, more like rants (with the ranters not having listened to what was going on before, not even to what the actor was replying to them at first). in short, they were very rude (and, come on: plain stupid).
        I do not criticise your opinion on how the staging handled the gender issue, it is not up to me to attack nor defend the production, I am not a critic in this context, but a, you know, the h-word. about the private/public distinctions in blogs: sure, as I said, have a strong opinion. I hope it is more than private, though. as to the attack, s. below, answer to anton. best, t

  3. I don’t mind gender bending, as long as it serves one’s deepening of the understanding of the drama. Hamlet has been played by female performers at least since Sarah Bernhard. But Macbeth? Surely there have been evil and ambitious women in history, but to have two Lady Macbeths in one play undermines its structure. More importantly, Jana Schulz in the title role is patently miscast. She would make a splendid Viola or Rosalind, but as a battle tested, brutal worrier is unconvincing: „too fair to be foul.“ The gender bending of other roles is arbitrary and purposless. Karin Henkel’s production is an unfortunate example of sacrificing everything to a whimsical, egocentric conceit. But this is precisely what opens the gates to Theatetreffen of these days.

    • I am sorry if I am losing track here – but who’s accusing whom as being ’narcissistic‘? And the more important question: Why? I really do not see the point in getting personal or taking it personal. At least here.

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