What could possibly be inspiring theatre-makers to focus on dystopias these days? It couldn’t be the two years of pandemic and subsequent death and disruption. Or global warming, the onslaught of extreme weather conditions and impending environmental collapse. Or even political turmoil, the increasing likelihood of war, the gaping divide between rich and poor.
An assortment of productions depicting worlds in disarray are coming to Berlin’s stage this month – many of them dating from earlier in the last century, which shows that human society is no stranger to existential fears and imminent collapse. With remarkable prescience, Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin’s influential novel We plays out in a post-apocalyptic society. The scenario, which inspired 20th-century writers such as Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, describes a world in which citizens have numbers instead of names, their lives regulated hour by hour, conducted under constant surveillance and ruled over by the “Benefactor”.
Directed by Russian director Maxim Didenko, the adaptation Wir at the Deutsches Theater will depict the doubtful benefits of a society determined solely by reason and logic, and the ill-advised efforts to expand the influence of those dubious benefits.
Nothing is quite so devastating to humankind as war, and several shows focus on its repercussions for human relationships and survival. In Draußen vor der Tür (The Man Outside), director Michael Thalheimer presents Wolfgang Borchert’s devastating play about a soldier’s post-war loss of normality. With every door in his home town closed to him, the trauma of war morphs into the trauma of no return.
Giuseppe Verdi’s original opera Les Vêpres Siciliennes goes even further back, describing the denaturing influence of not just war but colonial subjugation. Despite the plot being situated further back in history, this story of thwarted love and hidden family ties contorted by rebellion would have been readily relatable in 19th-century Italy occupied by France and Austria. Director Olivier Py, working with conductor Enrique Mazzola, shifts the action from the French takeover of 13th-century Sicily to France’s occupation of 19th and 20th-century Algeria.
Nevertheless, some productions opt to portray dystopia in a more satirical manner. French avant-garde director Philippe Quesne and his company Vivarium have created a bleak depiction of rural life after the ravages of industrialisation and ecological destruction. Yet he approaches this sombre topic with a sense of whimsy. In Farm Fatal, five now unemployed scarecrows try to gather small keepsakes of nature, collecting recordings of defunct natural sounds such as bird song to save for posterity.
Well, if we’re all on the way out, what do you do when there’s no money to dispose of our remnants? Enter the Undertaker – discount mortician and visionary – who appears to be calling the shots in Valley, a salubrious suburban village near Berlin. In Rabatt (Rebate), written and directed by Nora Abdel-Maksoud, a journalist pays a visit and disturbs the dubious equilibrium in this funereal promised land. The play lampoons socio-economic inequality – and to be honest, we might as well go out laughing.
- Wir Mar 27, 30 (with English surtitles) Deutsches Theater
- Draußen vor der Tür Mar 25-27 Berliner Ensemble
- Les Vêpres Siciliennes Mar 20, 26, 31 Deutsche Oper
- Farm Fatal Mar 3-5 HAU2
- Rabatt Mar 27 Maxim Gorki
The biennial showcase of international dance returns to Berlin for the first time since its beginnings in 1994. A kind of Theatertreffen for dance, it presents 13 recent critically acclaimed productions chosen by an expert jury. HAU, Sophiensäle, Deutsches Theater, Volksbühne, Radialsystem and other locations.
Geht es dir gut?
For his fourth show in this theatre season, René Pollesch, new artistic director of the Volksbühne but certainly a veteran of its stages (and intriguing production titles), presents a new work with long-time collaborator, actor Fabian Hinrichs and a 30-person chorus. Volksbühne
Mar 24, 26