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  • Old Classics, remastered: October on the Berlin stage


Old Classics, remastered: October on the Berlin stage

This October, Berlin's stage offerings include several older pieces with a contemporary twist.

Photo: Apollonia Theresa Bitzan

One of the exciting things about the Berlin theatre scene is that, because of public funding for many of the biggest theatres in town, venues and companies here can often afford to take more risks than their counterparts on Broadway or the West End. Or maybe this is also thanks to the open-mindedness of the typical Berlin audience, an audience that celebrated new writings by the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Peter Weiss before these were household names – and thus helped them to achieve great success.

Either way, the result is a city that celebrates new writing and innovation. And this is the case even when theatre turns to more traditional pieces. This October, there is innovation by the bucketload in a number of pieces that have been adapted from a more traditional oeuvre and given a contemporary twist.

This October, there is innovation by the bucketload

Gorki, celebrating its 70th year in operation, has new takes on both Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) and Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters (Drei Schwestern). Bosnia-born director Oliver Frljić has taken Brecht’s masterwork on war and family and placed it in the context of his own ‘War Trilogy’ of plays – a trilogy that kicked off with his hybrid production Danton’s Death / Iphigenia. Expect a new twist on a play that already broke boundaries in its original form. Meanwhile, the Chekhov piece made its German premiere in 1979 at Gorki, then within the GDR. Director Christian Weise has used a recording of a 1984 production to trace – and yet to modernise and play with – this play. In this way, the famous story of small-mindedness and family values in Russia gets the 2022 Gorki treatment. Sure to be a (depressing) delight.

Shakespeare’s wettest heroine, too, is in high demand for a new twist this month. With Opheliamaschine (Ophelia Machine) at the Berliner Ensemble, writer Magda Romanska responds to Heiner Müller’s Hamlet Machine and attempts to give Ophelia the chance to place herself at the centre of her own tragic narrative. Incidentally, this is part of the Ensemble’s ‘WORX’ series, where you can pay what you want to support upcoming directors and performers. And over at Volksbühne, Ophelia’s Got Talent is a dance and physical theatre piece where Ophelia’s forebearers and descendants play with the psychology of water to explore female sexuality and their role as nymphs. Bring an umbrella, I suppose.

Speaking of water nymphs, all you Wagner-heads out there will be pleased that the Ring Cycle is making a long-awaited reappearance in Berlin at the Staatsoper with a new production from Christian Thielemann. All three parts of the Cycle will be on throughout October, with its set design and big-opera vibes being some of the fanciest you’ll be able to find in the Hauptstadt. Get your tickets now, as it tends to sell out quickly.

For anyone who is unsure if ballet is for them, there could be no better introduction

And finally, this isn’t, strictly speaking, an update of an existing piece, but it is certainly innovation in a form often dismissed as old and fusty: Lab_Works from the Berliner Staatsballett offers the younger fellows of the ballet company’s mentorship programme a chance to take centre stage as choreographers and principal dancers. This season’s take, Half Life, is not a premiere, but for anyone who is unsure if ballet is for them, there could be no better introduction. This is more contemporary than many contemporary dance shows could ever be.

  • Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder Oct 9, 12, 30 Maxim Gorki Theatre
  • Drei Schwestern Oct 1, 3, 28 Maxim Gorki Theatre
  • Opheliamaschine through Oct Berliner Ensemble
  • Ophelia’s Got Talent Oct 22-24 Volksbühne
  • The Ring Cycle through Oct Staatsoper unter den Linden
  • Lab_Works: Half Life Oct 13, 21, 29 Komische Oper