A shamelessly self-indulgent post — I have a very exciting May in Berlin ahead of me. Here’s the itinerary, with lots of links to trailers (almost all the links are in English):
May 1: Don Juan (Moliere/Rene Pollesch) – Volksbuehne
Part of the Volksbuehne’s current exploration of Moliere (the other pieces are versions of The Imaginary Invalid and The Miser)), adapted and directed by the not-quite-newly-minted reigning poster child of the German postdramatic, Rene Pollesch.
May 2: Tales from the Vienna Woods (Horvath/Michael Thalheimer) – Deutsches Theater
Thalheimer is the director whose Emilia Galotti largely inspired my current research project, and I’m thrilled that I’ll get to see two of his shows in a few weeks. Horvath, the great chronicler of pre-fascist Germany and Austria, is having a bit of a revival at the moment; I almost managed to fit in a second production of this play currently in rep at the Berliner Ensemble.
May 3: Medea (Euripides/Michael Thalheimer) – Theatertreffen
The second Thalheimer in as many days! This will be my first show at the Theatertreffen — the annual juried festival that brings together what the jury considers the ten best shows of the year from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This Medea is a production from the Schauspiel Frankfurt, featuring what is being hailed as a “sensational” performance by the great Constanze Becker.
May 4: Enemy of the People (Ibsen/Thomas Ostermeier) – Schaubuehne
Ostermeier is probably the best-known internationally among his generation of German directors, partly because his productions have often toured to festivals and have frequently been staged at the Barbican. This version of Ibsen’s play, for instance, will be on stage in Montreal later in May. I’m very glad I’ll get to see it back-to-back with another production of the same play by a rather different director. (It’s also an indication of just how different the German theatre system is from ours that with a bit more scheduling flexibility, I could have seen at least two productions of four different older plays within three weeks in Berlin.)
May 5: Enemy of the People (Ibsen/Jorinde Droese) – Gorki Theater
The Gorki Theatre is the smallest of the major Berlin stages, but they’ve been doing exciting work for years, often with younger directors. Jorinde Droese is one of a number of female directors who have recently established themselves as driving forces in the German theatre scene.
May 6: The Robbers (Schiller/Antu Romero Nunes) – Gorki Theater
Another wunderkind director, Antu Romero Nunes. Really looking forward to this: wait for the last few seconds of the trailer!
May 7: Oedipus City (Sophocles/Euripides/Aeschylus/Stephan Kimmig) – Deutsches Theater
A stupendously cool-looking production based on an amalgamation of three ancient plays, directed by the wonderful Stephan Kimmig, whose Maria Stuart is one of my favourite recent shows, and starring Susanne Wolff (who played Maria Stuart in that production, and whose uncompromisingly visceral approach to acting I can’t wait to see live) and one of the mainstays of German theatre, Ulrich Matthes.
May 8: Wastwater (Simon Stephens/Ulrich Matthes) – Deutsches Theater
I know almost nothing about this one. It’s the one new play I’m seeing — first staged at the Royal Court in 2011 — and it’s in my schedule mainly to give me a chance to see how different (if at all) German productions of new work by living authors are from stagings of classics. But it’s also Matthes’ directorial debut and stars Wolff, so I’m sure it’s going to be an interesting evening no matter what.
May 9: Passion and Politics (Schiller/Claus Peymann) – Berliner Ensemble
This is an interesting one. I wanted to go and see at least one show at the BE, though they’re getting fairly roundly and routinely panned by critics in Germany. Peymann, one of the giants of 20th-century German theatre, is now often seen as old hat, a proud and peacockish has-been who is simply recycling tired and trite ideas and directorial tics. Since very few of those ever had an impact on mainstream anglophone theatre, though, I bet his version of Kabale und Liebe will still feel fresh to me — and if it doesn’t, well, that’ll be interesting in itself. And I can’t really spend two weeks in Berlin without paying a visit to Brecht’s old theatre — right? And look at this photo — that’s from a production that loudly proclaims its determined faithfulness to Schiller’s play!
May 12: Journey through the Night (Mayröcker/Katie Mitchell) – Theatertreffen
Almost a contemporary text (from the mid-1980s), and a new play (adapted from a prose piece), my second Theatertreffen show is in the schedule mainly because it’s directed by Katie Mitchell — one of the very few English directors to work with any frequency at all outside the anglophone world.
May 12: Petty Bourgeois (Gorki/Jette Steckel) – Deutsches Theater
Another young female director, Jette Steckel — who directed her first show in a major theatre when she was 20, and staged her first production at the Deutsches Theater when she was 26. Her take on Gorki’s rarely seen play (even in Germany) has been widely hailed as a success. It seems to be doing interesting work breaking down the division between actors and their characters; looking forward to this one.
May 13: Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare/Lars Eidinger) – Schaubuehne
A brand new production that hasn’t premiered yet, so I have no idea what to expect! Lars Eidinger is the male figurehead of the Schaubuehne’s ensemble, and this is only his second try at directing. As the move from acting to directing is far less common in Germany than in the English-speking world (and in Canada in particular), this show will make for an interesting test case for me — will a play staged by an actor look or feel markedly different?
May 14: Saint Joan of the Stockyards (Brecht/Sebastian Baumgarten) – Theatertreffen
And my last Theatertreffen show, a production of Brecht’s recasting of Schiller’s Maid of Orleans directed by another high-profile director in his 30s or 40s. Baumgarten used to be a Berlin marquee name, working in both theatre and opera, but has recently directed all over the place, in this case in Zurich. Brecht’s play, like Ibsen’s Enemy of the People is everywhere in German theatres at the moment, but Baumgarten apparently anchors the piece’s relevance in its own historical moment. Or so the critics say. Judging from the photos, I doubt this would be recognizable as a “historically situated” production to any anglophone reviewer….
May 15: Hedda Gabler (Ibsen/Stefan Pucher) – Deutsches Theater
I hope I’ll be able to get tickets for this — it’s a premiere, starring one of German theatre’s biggest names, Nina Hoss, and staged by Stefan Pucher (a director who turned from highly experimental devised work to classical texts in the past ten years). Ibsen remains indispensable in German theatre, but German Ibsen looks and sounds nothing like what we’re used to; Thomas Ostermeier’s Hedda Gabler at the Schaubuehne was one of the most notable productions of recent years, and Pucher’s “rival” version will doubtless go for similar accolades.
May 16: Coriolanus (Shakespeare/Rafael Sanchez) – Deutsches Theater
For my final evening in Berlin, another Shakespeare. Sanchez’s production has been widely panned by critics, but I can’t really ignore it, given the focus of my research. And even a failure — or a show regarded as a failure in the German context — could make for an interesting and enlightening experience. Besides, the set looks utterly mental. If nothing else. I’ll get to spend two hours fearing for the actors’ lives.
And that’s it. 15 shows in 16 days, with a quick trip to the theatre archive in Cologne in the middle. I’ll try to post reviews and reflections as I go!
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- The Changeling (Middleton & Rowley; dir. Jackie Maxwell) Stratford, July 2017
- How to Kill a Great Theatre: The Tragedy of the Volksbühne
- Three Sisters (Chekhov/Stone; dir. Simon Stone) Theater Basel/Theatertreffen, May 2017
- British Theatre under the Influence (of much more than The Roman Tragedies)
- Hamlet (Shakespeare; dir. Robert Icke) Almeida, London; Mar. 2017
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Holger Syme's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Images may be reused as long as their source is properly attributed in accordance with the Creative Commons License detailed above. Many of the photos here were taken at the Folger Shakespeare Library; please consult their policy on digital images as well.