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, theatre

Two For A Girl at the English Theatre Berlin

Travellers tell tales around camp fires, late into the night when nothing else is stirring…

Two For A Girl at the English Theatre Berlin

What happens when two people from different spheres in Ireland – a traveller woman and a settled man – transgress the boundaries of their communities? Actress Mary Kelly takes us on a journey into the far-reaching consequences of such an act, inhabiting five characters in a tale that spans several decades in her one-woman play Two For A Girl.

This might sound complicated – one actress playing five characters – but it is not. Kelly is a nuanced actress whose posture, demeanour and energy change as she transitions from one character to the next; sassy teenager, prim housewife, stout farmer…

Each player in this tale is given enough space to breathe – they have their own voice, their own truth to tell. Most interestingly, Kelly puts a marginalised voice – that of traveller woman Josie Connors – at the centre of the narrative. Not only does Josie provide a fascinating insight into a group rarely heard from, and into the complex relationship between Ireland’s settled community and traveller community, but she knows how to spin a tale.

The pared back production matches her style, drawing on the oral tradition of travellers and Ireland. This is storytelling at its purest. At an hour-long, the play will draw you in, twirl you around, delight and touch you before spitting you back out into the sun.

Two For A Girl is on at the English Theatre Berlin | International Performing Arts Center (Fidicinstraße 40, 10965 Berlin) on Thursday 14th, Friday 15th and Saturday 16th July 2016.

 

 

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Lippy at the Schaubühne Berlin

Lippy, a theatre piece based on a true incident that occurred in Leixlip, Ireland, where four women committed suicide by starving themselves to death, starts with a postshow discussion.

LIPPY by Dead Centre, Direction: Ben Kidd/Bush Moukarzel Photo: Jeremy Abrahams
LIPPY by Dead Centre, Direction: Ben Kidd/Bush Moukarzel, Photo: Jeremy Abrahams

I was so hungover, I wasn’t sure if this was part of the show (it is) or whether I was late and had somehow missed the play. It was possible: I had already turned up to review it without something to write on, or with.

So while the reviewer next to me furiously scribbled notes in his little book, I decided to rely solely on my wits and the power of my pounding head. The theatre, at least, was nice and dark Besides, how hard could it be? I’ve reviewed loads of plays…

The problem was, like its subject matter, Lippy is a confounding. Why did Frances Mulrooney and her three nieces, whom she raised, choose to end their lives this way? Why did they shred all their personal documents? A play that tried to answer these questions would be putting words into their mouths, and Lippy is intelligently aware of this conundrum.

So in the play’s sinister and expressionist imagining of the women’s last days, starving to death in the same house, much emphasis is put on the impossibility of ever achieving clarity. Words overlap, get lost, become distorted. People speak without moving their lips, or move their lips only to have different people speak for them. The play constantly disorientates and disturbs, thwarting any attempt to grasp a coherent meaning. Yet, I continued my attempt to grasp, leaning forward in my seat – like that would help. The whole thing was enough to make my head hurt – more than it already did.

The play ends with a mega Beckettian soliloquy delivered from the lips of the last living woman in the house. It is dark, and impactful – especially after almost an hour of not receiving a clear sentence – leaving the theatre in stunned silence.

An affecting play, not to be watched when hungover.

Lippy was on at Berlin’s Schaubühne as part of the Festival International New Drama (FIND) 7-17 April 2016.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

The Last Supper at the Schaubühne Berlin

The Last Supper by Ahmed El Attar, currently on as part of the Schaubühne’s Festival International New Drama (FIND), is a fascinating glimpse into the Egyptian bourgeois.

DSC_3264

Although the long table dominating centre stage is a nod to the Biblical Last Supper, the similarities soon end. Sure, the play starts with two men praying, but this is juxtaposed with another character singing Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind in Arabic. This curious mix of Near East meets West continues throughout the play, with characters taking selfies and arguing about Instagram, Emmental, and where the shopping is best: London or America?

The attempt to compare one city with a 52-state nation is of course shallow, illustrating the characters’ ambivalent relationship to the West. They have taken on our materialism, but at the same time, a character simply called ‘The General’ announces: America, and Iran, and Sweden, want to bring this country down, using Facebook.

These perceptions tickled the European audience most, and although they are hilarious, they are also disturbing. As the supper progresses, and animal carcasses are laid out on the table, so does the consumerist talk. Characters discuss servants like they are objects to be traded, the General refers to everyone as vermin, and Hassan, who is meant to be an artist,  reveals an alarming capacity for violence, including rape. The atmosphere is decadent, aggressive, nihilistic.

There is something missing here. In fact, there is someone missing. That important twelfth person, who, at this last supper, is Nadia. She keeps being called to the table but never appears.  Has she decided to sit this nauseus gathering out? Is she ill? Has she died? No one goes to check. Her absence reminds us of what else is absent at this table: Humanity.

The Festival International New Drama (FIND) is on at the Schaubuhne from 7 – 17th April 2016.

Berlin, history, Life in Berlin, science, theatre, Uncategorized

Transcendence at the English Theatre Berlin

A hundred years ago, on 25th November 1915, Einstein proved his general theory of relativity, transforming our understanding of physical reality. Apt timing then, for Robert Marc Friedman’s Transcendence, a play about Einstein, at the English Theatre Berlin.

Transcendence, English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Gerald Wesolowski, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

The play transcends the barriers of space and time – running from 1911 to the second world war, spanning from Berlin, Prague, Zurich and Sweden to the USA – as it spins together three story strands.

One strand is the relationship between Albert Einstein and his fellow physicist Max Planck. Einstein and Planck came from vastly different backgrounds, with little in common but physics and music. Although their friendship builds despite their differences, it ultimately – in the face of a volatile political landscape (including the first and second world wars) – fails.

Another focus is the relationship between Einstein and Kafka, who almost certainly met, although no record exists of their encounters. This narrative highlights the similarities between science and art – both men use creativity and imagination in their work to search for underlying realities. Is there, they ponder, a moral equivalent to general relativity?

And finally, there are the maneuverings in Sweden concerning the Nobel Prize in Physics, influenced by politics and people who were reluctant to acknowledge Einstein and his theory (they eventually awarded him the prize for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, not for relativity = fail).

The actors (Ben Maddox, Logan Verdoorn and Max Wilkinson) approach these iconic characters in a realistic way, even lending them a comic aspect. Despite this, the play gets bogged down by its weighty subject matter. It presents too much information over too broad a scope; although each story-line is fascinating, each could have been a full-length play in itself.

Overall, it manages to string together an illuminating picture of how some of Europe’s most fascinating figures struggled to transcend harsh realities during the most volatile period of the continent’s history.

Transcendence is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstr. 40, 10965 Berlin) until 30th November 2015.