Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Informed Consent at the English Theatre Berlin

Friday evening saw the English Theatre Berlin’s staged reading of Informed Consent by Deborah Zoe Laufer. The play centres around genetic anthropologist Jillian (Jill Holwerda), who has inherited the gene variant for early onset Alzheimer’s disease from her mother.

Grand Canyon

Jillian is desperate to find a cure before she succumbs to the disease. She witnessed the demise of her own mother, and although she is fearful of losing herself, she is most concerned about protecting her daughter from the same thing. In her belief that science has the answers, Jillian appears overzealous and unstable. At work, she claims that science will one day make humans immortal, while at her daughter’s princess parties, she convinces fellow parents to submit their DNA to research.

So it is no surprise that when Jillian takes over a project from a social anthropologist, which gives her access to the DNA of a Grand Canyon tribe of Native Americans in order test their susceptibility to diabetes, she oversteps her boundaries. Jillian tests for all sorts of other things too and although she finds no genetic connection to diabetes, she does discover that the tribe originally migrated from Siberia. This  contradicts the tribe’s own origin myth of springing from the Grand Canyon and creates a social and political quandary that the white scientist cannot possibly fathom.

For Jillian, there is only one story; the story of science – the greatest story of all. In her attempt to hold on to her identity, Jillian must confront the question of what makes us, us. Is it our DNA or is it the stories we tell ourselves?

In the end, this story is about a battle of stories. But the play suffers from a battle of stories itself. The question of informed consent – the play’s title and a fascinating concept that sprung from the Nuremberg code, after the Nazis conducted scientific experiments on unwilling subjects, becomes muddled with the story of Jillian’s home life, and the politics of Native American tribes in the US. Ultimately, the issue at the centre of the play – and the play itself – becomes confused.

In addition, although Jillian – the white scientist – is presented as a complex character, the  representation of the members of the tribe are simplistic and inauthentic to the point of frustration. It is an example of what the play itself is trying to demonstrate – the dangers of one story, or voice trying to dominate all others. In this case, it is the story of a white, liberal playwright.

Informed Consent was read at the English Theatre Berlin on Friday, 25th November 2016.

 

 

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

This Friday, 29th January, I will be reading at Inkblot Berlin at the English Theatre. Come along…

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

Inkblot Berlin gives you the chance to hear the voices behind the words. Working writers from the city read their drama, poetry and prose.

Formed in the furnace of the writing scene in Berlin, Inkblot seeks to shine a light on what is happening in the writing groups and draughty garrets of this vibrant capital. For this inaugural event we present Mary Kelly, twice published playwright from Dublin, Madhvi Ramani a polymath who writes for children and adults and Ben Maddox, who turns his bitter gaze onto rural life.

Let us tell you our stories.

Inkblot Berlin is taking place at 8pm, Friday 29th January 2016, at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstr. 40, 10965 Berlin).

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Mars One – Venus Zero at the English Theatre Berlin

Mars One – Venus Zero is the funny, provocative one-and-a-half-man show currently on at the English Theatre Berlin.

marsonevenuszero

The ‘half-man’ refers to a woman, Gem Andrews, and if you’re offended by the suggestion that a woman is worth half a man, prepare to be further shocked, because this play is all about Mike (played by Richard Gibb), an anti-feminist – or as he refers to himself, a meninist.

In fact, Mike thinks planet Earth is becoming so overrun by feminists that he’s preparing his audition video for the “MARS ONE” space program. Under the red glare of the recording light, we get an insight into his views and anger. This might sound intense, and at times it is – but mostly, it’s funny. The comedy arises darkly from Richard Gibb’s sincere portrayal of a man lacking potency, insight and intelligence.

Between recording sessions, Gem Andrews provides the emotional score to Mike’s story with haunting, soothing songs. These contrast with Mike’s on-screen persona – not just the video he’s recording – but his tweets and browsing activities which are projected on stage, provoking gasps and mutterings from the audience. It’s one thing to have such content out there in the mush of the Internet, quite another to bring it into the space of the theatre.

As the layers of this complex production click together, so does Mike’s story and we begin to see that he is not just an angry red alien – but deeply, touchingly human.

Mars One – Venus Zero playing at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstraße 40, 10965 Berlin): at 8 pm tonight and tomorrow.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

NippleJesus at the English Theatre Berlin

Last night, NippleJesus, a one-man play based on a short story by Nick Hornby, premiered at the English Theatre Berlin.

The setting was intimate, with chairs arranged in a horseshoe shape around the space where Dave (Jesse Inman) talks about his job as a bouncer, or, as his wife calls him, a security consultant.

NippleJesus
Photo: Casey-Tower, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Dave is a family man. Working class, cockney, no pretensions. Until recently, he worked at a club called Casablanca but after someone jabbed a rusty weapon at him, he quit. His job was just to allow “people to have a good time without fear of arseholes” – nothing worth getting stabbed over.

His new gig is at an art gallery. Dave isn’t sure if he’s ever been inside an art gallery before, and he isn’t sure why they would need a bulky guy like him in one. All becomes clear when he sees the painting he’s supposed to be guarding. It’s a picture of Jesus – beautiful, suffering, realistic – which, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be entirely made of pornographic images of nipples. This is NippleJesus. Dave is shocked, then outraged.

But after studying the picture some more, standing in the same room as it, meeting the artist, and defending it against religious nut jobs, Dave’s interaction with the painting evolves. As his perspective switches, so does our perspective of the art world. How does art affect people? How manipulative is the contemporary art world? What is modern art? Moreover, as Dave’s interaction with the painting deepens, so too does our insight into his character.

Jesse Inman, with his shaved head and stocky build has the right physicality for Dave, and like Hornby’ text, he has the ability to play with the clichés of the character yet hint at something more. He relies on subtle gestures, like the fidgeting of his forefinger and thumb while his hands are clasped behind his back as he talks. Like a bouncer, he only uses his physicality when he needs to.

At times. it was apparent that the piece was adapted from a short story rather than written for the stage, as it lacked a sense of build and dramatic explosion. As always with Hornby, there are laughs to be had – perhaps the biggest is the pay-off for the only two stage props – a tent and an onion – at the end.

A good evening out without fear of arseholes.

NippleJesus is on at the English Theatre Berlin until Saturday 25th July 2015.

Berlin, theatre

Isaac’s Eye at the English Theatre Berlin

Photo by Magnus Hengge | studio adhoc, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Magnus Hengge | studio adhoc, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Friday night saw the European premier of Isaac’s Eye – a snappy play tackling the history of science – at the English Theatre Berlin.

Young Isaac Newton desperately wants to become a member of the Royal Society; his older partner Catherine wants to get married and start a family, and the renowned scientist and member of the Royal Society Robert Hooke wants Newton to stop pursuing his work on light.

In Lucas Hnath’s imagining, these three maneuver around each other in an engaging plot involving a sex diary, a man dying of the plague, and an experiment involving the insertion of a needle into the eye…

The play is self-aware, letting the audience know which of its parts are fact and which are fiction via a delightful device in which things that are based on fact are written on one of the multiple blackboards that make up the set. This self-awareness is also manifested in the playful light and sound design.

While the play’s self-reflectiveness takes away any need to simulate a 17th century setting, and results in a fresh, direct approach, it can be clunky at times (I could have done without the act /scene announcements and a few of the “he saids / she saids”).

The actors, however, execute the piece with a strong sense of rhythm and flow; Oskar Brown is straight-backed and serious as the slightly-awkward young Newton, Ben Maddox is energetic as the drug-addled rock star of science Robert Hooke, and Mary Kelly is empathetic as the warm yet weary Catherine.

It’s only after the curtain has gone down and you’ve stopped smiling that you realise how serious the play is, dealing with great minds, personal sacrifice and questions of what’s important in life.

Isaac’s Eye is is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstrasse 40, 10965 Berlin; 030 691 1211; U6: Platz der Luftbrücke) until 10th May 2014.

 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Schwarz Gemacht at the English Theatre Berlin

Photo by Dragan Simicevic, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Dragan Simicevic, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Last night was the premier of Schwarz Gemacht, the first play to be developed and produced by the English Theatre Berlin. It’s an exciting choice; a play about identity set in Berlin during the Nazi era.

The story centres around Claus, a black actor who was born in Germany thinks of himself as German. This idea has been explored many times with patriotic German Jewish characters, but I’ve never seen the topic of Afrodeutschers (Afro-Germans) dealt with.

David L. Arsenault’s stark set design, consisting of a mesh of blank pages, signifies as much – these are untold stories. (Helpfully, there is a wonderful exhibition in the theatre lobby about the history of black people in Germany.)

Claus’s idea of his own identity is challenged by his night-time encounters with a jazz musician from the U.S (coolly played by Sadiq Bey) and reflected in the endeavours of a naive American girl to connect with her German roots – prompting a comparison of the treatment of black people in the U.S. and Germany.

However, the play falls short. This was mostly down to the writing. There was too much exposition – clumsily and undramatically done – and after one hour, the drama had barely escalated. Frankly, I was bored after the first half, so I left.

There was a time when I’d see anything through – bad films, books, relationships – just to examine where they were going and how they failed, but I can’t be bothered anymore. If I’ve given you an hour of my time, I’ve given you a fair chance to impress me and hold my attention.

Which brings me to the question; what is happening to theatre? Everything I have seen recently – in London and Berlin – has been mediocre. Either it’s conventional and Hollywood-ised –  as the popular plays that travel tend to be –  or it’s trying to do something different but ignores basic storytelling principles. It’s as if the only nuanced, interesting drama can be seen on TV nowadays.

Anyway, end of rant, off to re-watch Mad Men…

Schwarz Gemacht is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstrasse 40, 10965 Berlin; 030 691 1211; U6: Platz der Luftbrücke) until 15th March 2014.