Showcasing the 10 most outstanding plays of the past season’s German-speaking theatre, Theatertreffen 2012 is set to be bigger than ever – well, certainly longer, with the average play length a bum-numbing 4 hours. Tickets for Berlin’s own version of a theatrical Greatest Hits go on sale this Saturday, April 14.
Clearly, you need to know what you’re getting yourself in for, so read on, or don’t blame me if you wake up hungry and thirsty in the middle of the night to find that John Gabriel Borkman still hasn’t finished.
This year, half of the chosen productions will be shown with English surtitles. Of course, this is an exercise in multi-tasking – and make sure you’re not seated too close to the stage, or your rapid eye movements will be giving you whiplash. Even Germans will be grateful in the case of Gob Squad’s Before Your Very Eyes, which will be performed in Dutch by very talented children. If there’s one show I’m looking forward to without hesitation, it’s this one.
Surtitles will also be there to help you through several hours of Alvis Hermanis’ painstakingly naturalistic production of Chekhov’s Platonov – although perhaps a glass of wine might help too. If you’re on a tight schedule, Hate Radio is a modest hour and a half. Save your drinks until after, though; the HAU re-enactment of Rwandan radio propaganda might not be very eventful but it certainly leaves you with a heavy heart. If home politics is more your thing, try Ein Volksfeind: Coming to the new capital from the old, Theater Bonn puts a contemporary slant on Ibsen’s Enemy of the People by giving him a Migrationshintergrund. On the other hand, if you’re sick of hearing that particular compound noun, maybe give it a miss.
And then there’s the last of the English-surtitled plays – or rather the first, seeing as it’s opening the festival – Gesäubert/Gier/4.48 Psychose from the Kammerspiele in Munich and directed by Dutch master Johan Simons. Here I imagine having the words projected over the stage in the original will only intensify what is already a scary prospect to begin with: performed one after the other on the same night, these are the last three plays Sarah Kane wrote before committing suicide. I recently made the mistake of reading Kane’s collected works all in one go, so my initial reaction was to put Simons’ triple bill at the bottom of my TT12 list. But slowly my curiosity has gotten the better of me – how will “the rats carry Carl’s feet away” in Gesäubert (“Cleansed”) and what will A, B, C and M look like in Gier (“Crave”)? Before I knew what had happened the production had crept up to pretty near the top of my list. Just make sure you have somewhere warm, noisy and comforting to go to afterwards.
Tickets for the three Volksbühne productions are already on sale at the theatre itself, and although they don’t seem too concerned with surtitles (probably because the attitude to dialogue at the VB is a little more, ehm, fluid), they do like democracy: there will be free public viewings of Kill Your Darlings! and Die [s]panische Fliege at Potsdamer Platz. Munich’s Macbeth will be getting in on the big-screen action too.
And that just leaves Faust I+II and John Gabriel Borkman. At 9 hours and “between” 8-12 hours long respectively, if you make it until the end you’re guaranteed to be on first-name terms with either of these fine gentlemen. Think of it as the theatrical equivalent of a night out in Berlin; just Chez Goethe or Ibsen instead of Berghain or Weekend.
For a break from the onslaught of dead male playwrights, book a ticket for a dramatic reading of one of the winners of the Stückemarkt New Writing Competition. My favourite is Pamela Carter’s family drama in rewind, Skåne. The award ceremony is on Monday, May 14, and entrance is free.
Follow the debates and share your thoughts on below, and get your tickets from Saturday, April 14 by telephone (recommended!), online or at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele box office at Schaperstraße 24. And don’t say I didn’t warn you…