Berlin is a haven for theatre lovers – if you have a grip on the German tongue. The city’s sheer profusion of legendary stages (from the Deutsches Theater to the Schaubühne to the Volksbühne), all presided over by world-renowned directors (from Castorf to Marthaler or Schlingensief to Ostermeier) can be supremely frustrating for those still struggling to order a döner without blushing.
Did you score tickets to the award-winning Onkel Wanja at Deutsches Theater?Sorry, the subtleties of Chekov will be lost on you in German. Hankering to see Grips Theater’s famous musical Linie 1, which has been playing to packed houses since 1986? Auf Deutsch. What about Frank Castorf’s histrionic Fuck Off America at the Volksbühne? Fuck off, Americans: you won’t understand a word anyway.
But don’t despair. A light scratch on international Berlin’s surface reveals that it has a whole lot of theatre to offer – even for Anglophones. In fact, most prominent Berlin stages present the odd piece at least partly in English. Deutsches Theater has had a big hit earlier this year with a new interpretation of the classic German play Woyzeck, with a concept by Robert Wilson and songs by Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan. The international tricksters Gob Squad have a multimedia theatrical performance every few months at Volksbühne.
The superb Hebbel am Ufer generally ignores the restrictions of genre and language in their quest to bring interesting new theatre, dance and performance to town – every month there’s a new English speakers can delight at one of their three Kreuzberg theatres. And Schaubühne regularly presents its German-language plays with English surtitles.
For the past 20 years, English Theatre Berlin has provided a happy home for exclusively English-language productions: it supports the local community with staged readings and full productions, and also hosts visiting companies. Its regular poetry series Stanzas reflects Berlin’s strong English-language spoken word, poetry and comedy scene – a scene that boasts festivals like the annual three-day Poetry Hearings in November; monthly shindigs like Lady Gaby’s Fuel at Schokoladen and Robert Grant’s Beat Street at Arch Angel; and a whirlwind of non-regular events like Paula Varjack’s Anti-Slam, which take place in small bars and cafés.
The future of Berlin’s English-language theatre is actually in the pink, and rosiest of all for the comedians, who disregard propriety entirely and thrive on appearances in illegal bars and little bookshops like Another Country. EXBERLINER’s own Ben Knight and “Amok Mama” Jacinta Nandi terrorize the town with the likes of My English Class or Banged Up and Mashed. And even a ‘real’ comedy club, Kookaburra, now has four regular English-language nights: on Tuesdays, it’s either the English Comedy Night with Kim Eustice and guests or the Supernaturals’ “International Comedy Show”. Or there’s the live improv show Laugh Olympics (every other Saturday) and Summer Banks’ (EXBERLINER’s stage editor!) late-night open-mike show Comedy Gone Wild. So there’s no excuse, really. Get out there, Anglos, and take in some shows!