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.

 

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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.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Impro Embassy featuring Joe Bill and Lee White

Ratibor Theater ended their season of monthly English improv last Thursday with an amusing show featuring Joe Bill and Lee White, with accompanying music by Harry Hawaii.

Impro Embassy with Joe Bill and Lee White at Ratibor Theater
Photo by Sappho Wohlgemuth, courtesy of Ratibor Theater

Special guests Joe Bill (USA) and Lee White (Canada) have been touring Europe with their improv show Paradigm, which varies each time they perform it. The novelty is guaranteed by the audience, who provide prompts. The Berlin audience input included short skirts, a potter, Jurassic Park and mettbrötchen (raw minced pork, seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped onion, on bread)…

Interesting set-ups emerged – an artist with a starving family, a dinosaur in need of a therapist, a love story involving the daughter of a mafioso – although the sketches sometimes felt a bit tired, with the actors repeating lines. Perhaps this was an effect of having just two people, who were familiar with each other, carrying the show. Harry Hawaii’s musical accompaniment helped to provide accents and pace.

In the second half, however, the actors picked up the original sketches and ran with them. The humor escalated – a Scottish dinosaur-hunter picked up a boomerang to kill the depressed dinosaur, the mafioso murdered everyone in a Finnish McDonald’s because of their so-called ‘New York’ burger, and the starving artist used his skillful hands to make mettbrötchen. Bill and White had found their flow, and the audience were in stitches.

Even the actors’ familiarity with each other paid off. They got personal, and goaded one another (at one point White challenged Bill to bring in each member of a big mafia family to see their dying father, and Bill, feeling the strain after the sixth one, revealed that the rest of the family had been murdered).

As a writer, it was an interesting process to see; ideas start slowly, then characters and stories take on a life of their own. On the other hand, it might just have been the consumption of beer and wine that made things looser.

Apart from a few slip ups (the Scotsman spoke with an Irish accent), the actors demonstrated a good level of craft and creativity and, as always with improv, provided refreshing moments of surprise. Moreover, there was real pleasure in seeing characters recur, stories develop and a pattern – or paradigm – emerge from randomness.

Impro Embassy will continue their monthly high-quality, entertaining improv evenings in English after a summer break, in October.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

The Little Foxes at Berlin’s Schaubühne

Thomas Ostermeier’s revival of American playwright Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at the Schaubühne begins with a dinner party: A German family, united and happy, entertain an American businessman who promises to make them all very rich. There’s only one problem…

Photo: Arno Declair
Photo: Arno Declair

Brothers Ben and Oscar, who inherited their father’s business, need one more investor for their transatlantic venture. To keep control of the company within the family, they want their sister Regina to convince her sickly husband Horace to be the third investor.

The three siblings are equally ambitious. Ben (played by Moritz Gottwald) is smart, pragmatic and hides his greed with fine talk. Oscar (David Ruland) is not as subtle and, the weakest of the three, has an inferiority complex that manifests itself in his tyrannical abuse of his wife Birdie and son Leo. But Regina (Nina Hoss), whose desire to escape her miserable marriage and the provincial life that her father’s decision not to give her an inheritance has condemned her to, is the most driven of all.

Regina manipulates the people and situations around her with skill, switching from charm to blackmail. Hoss portrays her with ice-queen composure, negotiating percentages and luring her husband home from hospital, but when it becomes clear that Horace has no intention investing, fissures appear. Regina’s brothers hatch a murky plot to get the additional funds, and we realise that once more, Regina is being disempowered by the men around her.

Photo: Arno Declair
Photo: Arno Declair

Indeed, this is a play about women, and the tragic consequences that follow when they are denied self-determination, like Oscar’s aristocratic wife Birdie (Ursina Lardi).

Lardi steals the show with her portrayal of a musically talented woman who has turned to drink, going from breathless enthusiasm to writhing about on a floor – someone whose wings have been clipped by marriage.

But Ostermeier’s decision to move the play from its original 1900 Alabama setting to modern Germany is jarring. It provokes questions such as why do these two women – Regina and Birdie – stay in their marriages? Why does Regina, so intelligent and calculating, not figure out other ways to do what she wants? Why did her father leave her out of her will? While it is believable that maybe one of these things could have happened in a modern German family, as the questions pile up, they interfere with one’s suspension of belief. After all, there is a big difference between the American South over 100 years ago and Germany now.

The skill of the actors distract from these questions of logic and that final moment when Regina stands alone on stage, having gotten what she wants at the cost of her familial relationships, is still potent.

The Little Foxes (Die kleinen Füchse) is on at the Schaubühne, with shows with English surtitles.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Impro Embassy at Ratibor Theatre

Impro Embassy is a fresh and funny English-language show at Ratibor Theatre that takes place the first Thursday of every month.

Impro Embassy, Ratibor TheatreI went to last Thursday’s performance entitled City Beats. The show featured professional improv actors from different countries – Helena Lindegen (Improvisationsteater, Stockholm), Luisa Schnittert (Die Gorillas, Berlin), David Arcuri (Teatribu, Milan), along with music by Rudy Redl (Die Gorillas, Berlin) and Mike Russell (Black Heritage, Washington D.C) – working together in a unique constellation.

Each player took turns in providing a prompt, either from the audience, a video, song, or a personal tidbit inspired by their city to get the action going. What resulted was a series of entertaining, sometimes surreal, always surprising sketches that took us on a whirlwind journey from a rap performance on the streets of Washington D.C. to breakfast with a suicidal Swedish family.

Mother:     I’ll wake the boys. Larsen! Andersen! Nielsen!
Daughter:  Why did you name us all with surnames? It’s so difficult…

Other sketches included a noirish love story featuring a cat called Snowball, a woman addicted to dressing up as a lizard and scaring Berlin clubbers on their way home in the early hours, and a contemporary movement performance illustrating the life and death of a snowman.

Detective:  I’m looking for this cat.
Woman:     Yes, he is here.
Detective:  That was easier than I thought. This is the first place I have visited.
Woman:     Well, this is the only cat hotel in Poland…It was a good idea.

The actors worked hard to find a tone and sense of narrative in each sketch, aided by the musicians who intuitively provided a score. The creative process was fascinating to watch – affirming the importance of play and rolling with an idea until it turns into a gem – and the evening sparkled.

The most telling piece was one in which each actor spoke only in their native language (Swedish, German and Italian). Through the confusion, they eventually managed to connect with each other and create an engaging, comprehensive story. For me, this is typical Berlin; that on a rainy night in Kreuzberg, people from different places can come together and collaborate despite their differences, to create a special, one-off experience.

The next Impro Embassy entitled Click will be at 20.30, Thursday 5th February 2015 at Ratibor Theater (Cuvrystr. 20a, 10997 Berlin, nearest U-Bahn Schlesisches Tor).