A rousing romp through the eastern end of Görli, the new production from the folks at Shakespeare im Park is exactly what a free, open-air version of classic theatre in bohemian Berlin should be: a political, comical and lovingly-made dual-language theatrical experience. What Utopia TM – Where all is True lacks in polish, it compensates for in inventiveness: combining texts from Sir Thomas More, Shakespeare and some authors whose names have been lost to history; creating signs out of children’s toys; using plastic sheeting for costumes and silver balls for Anne Boylen’s (Sebastian Witt) breasts.
Switching back and forth between English, Shakespearian English and German, the plot isn’t always easy to follow, especially if your German isn’t fluent (a summary was distributed in German), but the overall message is clear: a perfect utopia, especially as run by Sir Thomas More (the capable Peter Priegann) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The biggest flaw in this production is that it tries to do too much at once: use a public park as a stage, but also respect its regular users, tell a classic story with commentary on contemporary problems, and attempt to portray some subtlety while moving masses of people through multiple locations. This is probably why the production is at its strongest when it’s also at its broadest and most absurd – an instance of a Catholic Cardinal (a hilariously physical Claudia Schwartz) shitting into a trumpet comes to mind.
Modern references like anal freeze also keep slipping into the classic text and are alternately disturbing, confusing and pleasantly surprising. The live soundtrack provided by Canadian buskers Trike makes for pleasant transition music, but the work’s crowning achievement comes at the very end, when all unite in singing a rousing summary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First as a Broadway-style musical number.
Learning from their first attempt at the Bard in Berlin with King Henry the Fourth last summer, Shakespeare im Park’s creators (Katrin Beushausen, Maxwell Flaum, amoung others) increased the comedy/tragedy ratio, and shortened the run time to two hours. The crowd management has also improved; partially due to a rather intriguing choose your own adventure subplot in the second half.
All in all, this kind of Shakespeare im Park is a refreshing break from the pedantic, more or less traditional and frankly boring productions of the classics that pop up around the world. The creators also received some grants this year – so they need not live from donations and crowd funding alone – but this is in a city that funds not only three large operas but also multiple traditional theatres. Additional support would only enable the creators of this kind of production, which is open and free to all by definition, to continue to refine their works.
Theatre and performance for and by the ever changing communities in Berlin – be they English, Spanish, Turkish or German-speaking – shouldn’t have to remain a utopian dream, and judging by the range of spectators roaming through Shakespeare im Park’s creation, from hipster to Rentner, we’re already on our way.
Utopia TM – Where all is true, Aug 16, 17, 18 19:00, Aug 19 16:00 | Meeting point: Lohmühlenstr. / Ecke Jordanstr.