Much about Gob Squad doesn’t square with traditional notions of German theatre: they don’t use scripts, improvise heavily and shun hierarchies. For the past 25 years, the idiosyncratic British-German collective has channelled a collaborative, multimedia approach to theatre that has taken them around the world. The once-students of applied theatre studies are now textbook examples of postdramatic performance art in action – and the seven-strong group shows no signs of slowing. This month their Brexit-inspired I Love You, Goodbye returns to HAU for Britain’s next scheduled departure date from the EU.
You’ve been invited to HAU’s celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Hans-Thies Lehmann’s seminal book Postdramatic Theatre. What influence did it have on you?
To be honest, the closest I ever came to the book was when my son came home from his theatre studies course and said, “oh, I didn’t know you did postdramatic theatre”. Academic institutions actually started putting us on their curriculums quite early on in our career. I think teachers were desperate for groups like ours to use in their classes, not just because of what we were doing on stage but how we work. We’re a collective without a director that works in a non-hierarchical way.
That stands in stark contrast to the lone genius cult of German theatre. Has it been hard to keep Gob Squad going?
Working collaboratively is inefficient, it’s hard and it takes up a great deal of time, but it’s the political cornerstone of the group. In my younger punk days, I naively didn’t realise that culture is a business. You have to keep making work that is relevant, that’s on point and that feels right for you. Sometimes it feels like a theatre factory. What I find really difficult is making work fit into institutionalised grant applications. We have to pay our rent and when there’s seven of you, that money is divided between all of us. We are really lucky though, Berlin has been extraordinarily good to us.
You’re performing your fourth edition of “I Love You, Goodbye” on Britain’s new scheduled departure date from the EU. The most recent version in Frankfurt was titled “Unfuck my Brexit Edition”. This time it’s “The Brexit and Beyond Edition”. That sounds more optimistic.
Sadly, I think that Brexit will happen. At the March premiere for the original Brexit day, there was still a feeling that maybe we could stop it. Unfortunately, there’s now an acceptance that it will happen. So we wanted to look beyond Brexit and see what the future could hold.
In the performance, you reflect on the British-German identity of the group through food. Can food say something about our identities that other things can’t?
We felt that it was a way to talk about identity being nationalistic. Berit can get very, very passionate about her “Grüne Soße”, but that doesn’t make her a patriot. For me, it’s beans on toast. I love it, I stick with it. You can have it for breakfast, dinner and tea. Straight out of a tin! You don’t have to heat it up but you can if you want. There is, of course, a class dimension to this too. I am aware I play the working class card, but it’s something I’ve only begun to embrace in the past five years. In an arts context, I was worried that it would get in my way.
I Love You, Goodbye – The Brexit and Beyond Edition | HAU1, Kreuzberg. Jan 31, 19:00.