Hello to Berlin

Along with Sir David Hare and other theatre groupies, I've been to Berlin. It's a good place for theatre right now - Thomas Ostermeir's chillingly revelatory Hedda Gabler has toured internationally (his Ibsen explorations continue with what sounds like a mighty John Gabriel Borkman).

But I was visiting what was for decades the archetypal German company - the Berliner Ensemble. On the river, its distinctive logo (designed by Brecht acolyte Peter Pabst, himself an inspired director at the Ensemble) revolves in neon at the top of the building. Inside the theatre, the best graphic design I've seen in ages (I came away with whole handfuls of leaflets, and was distressed to discover I hadn't noticed that old programmes were on sale at bargain prices).

The plan: (a) catch a couple of much-talked-about productions and (b) interview artistic director Claus Peymann. (a) was spiffy, (b) not so much - the interview was repeatedly postponed. Which is a shame, because the Ensemble is one of the world's great companies, and I'd like to have known more.

For example: what difference does it make to have actors spend their careers in a single company? We felt that we could spot the deeply embedded nature of the performances, but were we being idealistic? And just how much does a theatre's atmosphere shape its artistic direction?

I was expecting a big, brutalist building - a Communist behemoth pounding out epic plays before the wall came down. But the theatre is intimate and ornate. It's peculiar to imagine that this is the space in which Brecht's questing theatre reached its final flowering, behind the gilt-swirled proscenium with its pleasantly zaftig figurehead.

The size also made sense of the plays: this is an actor's theatre - its dimensions, oddly, not unlike London's Royal Court. The stage space is high, but not deep - there's room for scenic startle, but it also allows an actor to command the bare space, address the audience intimately (just as Claire Higgins did at the Court last night, astonishing in Wallace Shawn's balefully freewheeling monologue The Fever). How does Brecht come over in such a space, Herr Peymann? Does he seem more pointed, less polemical? If you happen to be reading, let me know.

When the Ensemble first visited London, in 1954, they were perceived as revolutionary - an epic theatre with a purpose, in which personality was subsumed into function, and music, design and lighting were all forged together like steel. Kenneth Tynan reported a socialite at Mother Courage sighing, 'I was bored to death.' 'Bored to life would have been apter,' he wrote. In an age of frequent touring, the impact might not now be so great. But, except for Peymann's production of Richard II in the RSC's Complete Works festival in 2006, they haven't been to Britain for ages: why not? Do they not want to come, or do we not want them?

Later this week, hold onto your hats for reports on the outstanding new show by Robert Wilson (united at last with Shakespeare, Rufus Wainwright and a man dressed as Elizabeth II) and Spring Awakening - (not, thank the lord) the Musical.

April 23, 2009 11:01 PM | | Comments (0) |

Leave a comment

Blogroll

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on April 23, 2009 11:01 PM.

Make your own monster was the previous entry in this blog.

Robert, Rufus, Shakespeare: together at last is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads


AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

culture
About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Dewey21C
Richard Kessler on arts education
diacritical
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Flyover
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

dance
Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

jazz
Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
ListenGood
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Rifftides
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

media
Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Overflow
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
PianoMorphosis
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
PostClassic
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Sandow
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

publishing
book/daddy
Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

theatre
Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

visual
Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
Artopia
John Perreault's art diary
CultureGrrl
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.