Our ancestors in the Middle Ages were fascinated by the Wheel of Fortune. Not the game show (although they probably would have been keen on that as well), but the way in which fate seems to indifferently – if not cruelly – elevate, enrich and empower individuals, only to dash them into ruin and despair at a later point.
The fickle favour of destiny lends itself beautifully to compelling drama, something that William Shakespeare knew and mastered like no other playwright. Classics such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar chart the rise and fall of their eponymous main characters in lyrical detail. His King Lear also tells the story of a man who, blinded by his own glory, makes a fatal decision that leads to his destruction.
But this doesn’t only happen to men. Queen Lear, a new adaptation at the Maxim Gorki theatre, is poised to show us this. Created by director Christian Weise and the writer collective Soeren Voima, their version scrambles the genders of many of its characters – notably the titular figure, portrayed here by actor Corinna Harfouch. The majesty, command and hauteur she brings to her roles will brilliantly suit the portrayal of a leader whose sense of self-importance turns her opulent world to ashes.
Actors also chase glory on the stage and screen – usually, sometimes tragically, in vain. In Chekhov’s The Seagull, Nina yearns for fame and love and never truly achieves either. Her monologue, a play within the play, has become part of the audition repertoire and actor Lili Epply’s tryout for the Berliner Ensemble has now inspired a spin-off: Möwe (Seagull). In this meta version – a play spawned by the play within a play – Epply performs a text developed in rehearsals with actor/director Sarah Viktoria Frick and writer and actor Anne Kulbatzki.
On the other hand, although diva Emilia Marty achieves long-lasting acclaim, she has her sights on something else in Die Sache Makropulos (The Makropulos Affair) at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, under the baton of Simon Rattle. In this opera that feels like a mash-up of Bleak House and Carmen, famous singer Emilia bewitches all the men – actually, women, too – in her pursuit of eternal glory. But, as we know, too much power, as well as the search for it, can backfire quite badly.
The reputations of some people would seem to be set in stone – quite literally, when their image is immortalised in a statue. Then history rolls on, times change, wars are lost – what becomes of statues that become unwanted, even abhorrent, to contemporary society? In Steinerne Gäste (Stone Guests), theatre-maker and performer Oliver Zahn explores the curious history and afterlife of fallen statues. Given the number of statues that have recently been torn down, the piece promises to be a timely meditation on the undead monsters of history.
- The Elephant in the Room: Cirque Le Roux’s stylish retro acrobatic performance combines circus, comedy and Hollywood film noir. Chamäleon, Feb 22-May 29
- Jessica – An Incarnation: The new production by Susanne Kennedy and Markus Selg explores the story of a prophetess who, using her near-death experience, gathers material posted on the internet to attract followers. Volksbühne Feb 24-25, 27