Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre, things to do

A Christmas Carol at theaterforum kreuzberg

Christmas is here! But despite the sprinkling of snow and Christmas markets popping up everywhere, I hadn’t been feeling the Christmas spirit until I saw A Christmas Carol at theaterforum kreuzberg.

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Dickens’ novella is the quintessential Christmas tale. It has spawned countless adaptions, from Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim, to The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). This year, however, it seems to be particularly en vogue, with a film about the story’s creation – The Man Who Invented Christmas and stage productions on in London, Stratford, Hull, Bolton, Dundee, Scarborough and the State Apartments at Windsor Castle. Even Berlin will experience two different productions of the play this December.

ChristmasCarol-051.jpgWith its production, Berlin English Repertory Theatre (BERT) has decided to go traditional, embracing the story’s simple morality and ghostly spirit with a touch of humour and pantomime. Along with the Victorian costumes, there is a hint of contemporary Berlin in the outrageous and sparkling appearances of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. But the icing on the yule log is the quartet of singers that punctuates the performance with Christmas carols.

ChristmasCarol-111Pale, thin-faced Bruce Woolley makes a wonderful Scrooge, who is at first mean-spirited, then moved by pity, shame, and finally fear, to change his ways. He renders each emotion beautifully as he is guided along on his journey by the ghosts of Christmas, keeping the audience connected to the true heart of the story. We can see in him the lost, little boy he once was as he is forced to watch a party where the guests make jokes at his expense.

BERT’s production is not scrooge-like at all — the stage overflows with vivacity, children, songs, dancing, rattling ghosts, and a good dose of shadowy darkness.

A Christmas Carol is on at theaterforum kreuzberg until 23rd December 2017.

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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.

 

 

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Guest Blogger Pat O’Day Sleeps Over at Ballhaus Ost’s Hotel Berlin

Museum overnights have become well-established, but I had never heard of a sleepover at a theatre venue before. So I was curious when I read about theatre Ballhaus Ost’s temporary project Hotel Berlin.

Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

It was not booked out, so I just turned up and chose between three categories; mattresses on the floor in a dorm sold for 13€, while bunk beds and private rooms came for just a few extra euros. Most of the rooms, however, did not come with doors.

I got my hand-stamped at the door, night-club style, and then tried to find my bed among the 75 scattered all over the listed ramshackle six-storey building. Less than half of the almost forty guests finally decided on staying overnight, so everybody could pretty much have their pick regardless of which category they had booked. If you felt like it, you could sleep on stage or next to the bar.

Artistic director Tina Pfurr welcomed the guests. She introduced the people actually living at Ballhaus Ost: designer and performer Lisa, Brazilian architect turned mixed media artist Fernanda, and octogenarian former circus acrobat Herr Diano, who can no longer afford the rent in Prenzlauer Berg.

The members conducted entertaining tours of the building, full of anecdotes about the theatre company’s ten year history, the history of the building and adjoining enclosed park – a cemetery that is now also used for wedding receptions. Recently, the space has seen conflicts over apparently incompatible uses. For example, when a co-working space was separated from experimental theatre rehearsals by only a plywood panel.

At first, the founders of the theatre company had rented only the theatre hall, but then they made a hole in the wall to take over the empty spaces as offices and living quarters on the sly. Some rooms are filled to the brink with props, trash, or kitschy memorabilia. There are surprises all over the place, like a game room with a miniature bubble bath in the basement.

The diverse art work is even more interesting. Fernanda presented a bedsit installation where every item apart from a suitcase was covered in white paint. She said she wanted to demonstrate what it feels like to keep moving from one furnished flat to the next where nothing really belongs to you and you have no personal connection to the objects you chance upon. She also reflected that she was a victim as well as a perpetrator of gentrification.

In between tours, there were staged live links between Tina and the company’s off ground rehearsal, which quickly descended into chaos.

At midnight, we gathered at a long table where an architect explained how the partially dilapidated building structure could be preserved and generate more income for the company. Ideas included adding a new floor on top of the building, tree house offices and camping in the park, and a regular hotel service. Afterwards there was a vegetarian or vegan pasta dinner (for a small donation) that Lisa and her crew had prepared.

Shortly afterwards, I retired to my bed. Time passed quickly. The atmosphere made it easy to start conversations with other visitors, artists, and performers. The night felt like a weird mix of sleepover, museum tour, school trip, gallery walk, TED talk, late night dinner, and of course unconventional theatre.There was also a complimentary breakfast. The night porter even got up before 5 am to serve it to one guest who needed to leave early. All of that for a very competitive price that probably no nearby hostel can beat.

Hotel Berlin was on at Ballhaus Ost from 7 – 18 September 2016.

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.

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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, Life in Berlin, theatre

Fear Industry at the English Theatre Berlin

Fear Industry is not really a play. Rather, it is a montage of movement and sound building on one theme; fear.

Fear Industry at the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Achim Wieland

Performers Marios Ioannou and Elena Kallini skillfully switch between multiple characters in quick succession – a little boy called George, a politician with speeches about security, a mother watching her child play, a game show host – illustrating just how much our lives and society are governed by fear. The fear of wrinkles, the fear of swine-flu, the fear of flying.

The characters dance around a tightrope in the middle of the stage, accompanied by mezzo-soprano Marianna Pieretti. These people are constantly pulled, tied down by threads of anxiety. As one character says, “Birds and butterflies were meant to fly, but humans have to stay grounded.” By holding up a mirror to the ways in which our society is built on fear – from the focus on wealth to the decision to go to war – the performance encourages us to reconnect with child we once were. The child who, fearless, stuck their fingers into the lion’s cage.

However, the composition itself never manages to completely take off, hovering as it does, somewhere between drama and performance. I would have preferred it to commit more strongly to one or the other. As it is, the characters lack real depth or development, which fails to make it a satisfying drama, while the performance element is not pushed as far as it can go. Chekov famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The same rule could apply to a tightrope; if it is on stage, someone should walk it.

An interesting concept that could have been braver.

Fear Industry is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstraße 40, 10965 Berlin) until Saturday 20th February 2016.