What an action packed day! A morning discussion with Michael Thalheimer and Constanze Becker about their Medea, an afternoon discussion about the play with Inge Stephan and Hans-Thies Lehmann, and then my second Enemy of the People in three days, at the Maxim Gorki Theatre — the smallest of the six theatres I’ll see. It’s a rather quaint auditorium with a significantly smaller stage than the other houses. But of course even this stage has a turntable. Because apparently you can’t have a stage without a revolve in Berlin. Wouldn’t be a theatre if things couldn’t spin.

I’ll be meeting with the director and the actress playing Stockmann (the genders of the Stockmanns are reversed in this production) on Tuesday, and will have more to say after that. Briefly, though, Droese’s version of the play makes for intriguing comparison with Thomas Ostermeier’s, which I saw at the Schaubuehne two nights ago. It’s a far more theatrical take: where Ostermeier’s actors played in a broadly realist, almost screen-actorly fashion (not quite that, but close enough), Droese’s characters are far more broadly drawn. The first encounter between Dr Stockmann and her mayor brother devolves into a yelling match very quickly (right off the bat, she nearly strangles him with his tie). Emotions are strong, gestures are big, character traits are amplified and pushed to extremes.

Ostermeier’s set (designed by Jan Pappelbaum) wasn’t exactly hyper-realist, but it didn’t foreground its stagey quality either; Droese’s (designed by Annette Riedel) is ostentatiously theatrical, functioning as an additional player more than a mere backdrop. In the opening scene, it features an enormous sofa (sign of Stockmann’s profligacy) that takes up so much space and is pushed so close to the edge of the stage that the actors can only get on it from the back or by jumping over the armrests — easy enough for the agile hipster journalists Billing and Hovstad, hilariously difficult for the stodgy mayor. The entire proscenium is covered in a sheet painted with a Magritte-like bright cloudy sky, leaving just a narrow strip of stage, perhaps a metre or so deep, as the playing area for the first two acts.

After that, Dr Stockmann tears down the sheet, revealing a version of the same blue sky penetrated by a large tube — presumably representing the bacteria-filled water pipes Stockmann has discovered, but also serving as the sole entrance; for the rest of act 3, characters tumble onto the stage through the pipe opening. This is worlds removed from Ostermeier’s aesthetics.

Still, there are similarities. Fairly early on, Mayor Stockmann turns to the audience to collect a shortlist of negative stereotypes about politicians (he got “fascist” twice, along with “liars,” “slimy,” and “creeps”). And the entirety of Act 4 is staged after the break in the theatre lobby, with Dr Stockmann walking addressing the audience first standing on the bar, then walking through the crowd with a microphone. Like Ostermeier, Droese’s Enemy of the People leaves Ibsen at least partially behind in the speech — except Droese, instead of opting for the acceptable if so far ineffective current manifesto her Schaubuehne colleague inserted into the play, makes the more interesting choice of having Stockmann channel RAF member Gudrun Ensslin’s letters. And whereas the Schaubuehne Stockmann was angry and somewhat messianic in tone, the Gorki one got close to out-and-out madness, yelling uncontrollably towards the end of her rant, after concluding with Ensslin that hate is a necessary precondition of revolutionary change — a conclusion her daughter loudly rejected, and to which a large part of the audience seemed to respond with puzzlement and unease.

As in Ostermeier’s production, Droese’s transformation of the theatre audience into Stockmann’s creates a problem for the play, in that we’re not running riot or calling Stockmann an “enemy of the people” — so where do the destruction of the family’s apartment and their apparent marginalization come from? The problem isn’t quite as pressing as at the Schaubuehne, partly because Stockmann’s new speech in Droese’s version isn’t anywhere near as agreeable as the Ostermeier version (though the “Coming Insurrection” manifesto is clearly alluded to in this show, when Petra refuses to translate a French political text that advocates theft as a form of social protest). The production also directly engages the audience’s complicated role: when we got back to auditorium for Act 5, Mayor Stockmann was already there, handing out styrofoam “rocks” to the audience and encouraging them to hurl the rocks in the direction of the stage. Of course, the first throw caught him squarely on the back of his head. He humoured the audience, even encouraged us to pelt him with the harmless “rocks” — but then he handed one guy an actual cobble stone: “Go ahead, throw it. Let’s see how radical you really are.” It was a pretty chilling moment, for me watching, but even more for the man with the rock, who muttered something and then quickly put the projectile down on the stage floor. And finally, the last act shows an entirely transformed Stockmann in any case — she’s yelled her last. The stage is empty now, smothered in smoke and lit by a bank of orange lights; open to the back wall, with only the crumpled sheet of sky in the centre of the revolving turntable. We see her running in silence on the revolve, round and round, as other characters speak for her (“Katharine says… Katharine says… says Katharine…” becomes a refrain). Her daughter Petra, former staunch ally, trades ideals for cash and withdraws the allegations about the polluted water in her mother’s name (while her mother revolves, revolves, revolves). At the very end, Dr Stockmann steps forward, all the way to the edge, stares out at us, and begins an erie countdown from ten. I genuinely had no idea what would happen, half braced myself for the sound of an explosion, but then nothing happened but a blackout.

This is a different Stockmann yet again — not Ostermeier’s ambivalent revolutionary representative, not Ibsen’s megalomaniac singular man, but a woman who has dropped out of the discourses that organize everyone else’s reality. The final set, so very different in its visual language from the rest of the play, mirrors that lack of a social context that would, in however theatrical a fashion, allow us and her to make sense of Stockmann’s life and convictions. Droese is no more on Stockmann’s side than was Ostermeier, though in her case, where the character end up is already prefigured in a sense in her near-hysterical frame of mind in the first scenes. There is a general thread of hysteria in the Stockman family in this show: the Doctor and her brother, the Mayor, and even her daughter are easily provoked. Mr Stockmann doesn’t get much of a look in (though Cornelius Schwalm captures the figure wonderfully in a pitch-perfect portrayal, never quite a caricature, of a discombobulated, super-soft, mentally pudgy liberal stay-at-home dad) until he asserts himself, first pathetically, in Act 4, then with chilling success in Act 5 (as he starts to speak for his wife). But by then, there isn’t much of a person left for him to usurp.

As with the Schaubuehne version, I’m not entirely sure where the production leaves us politically. But theatrically, this was a much richer take on the play. Less disciplined, too — there was a lot of play, and playfulness, on display, both funny and horribly serious. At times, Droese’s is a riotously theatrical show. After the austerity of two Thalheimer evenings and the realism of Ostermeier’s Enemy, the exuberance of this production was a bit of an aesthetic jolt. Mostly, though, it served as yet another reminder that “German theatre,” or even “Berlin theatre” is defined most of all by its sheer unpredictable variety. Tomorrow, Schiller’s Robbers: same theatre, different actors and director. I’m not sure what to expect, but I know it’ll be nothing like the other five shows I’ve seen now.

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