Yesterday morning I received a text message from my friend Eddie inviting me to see that evening’s performance of Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Schauspielhaus. I will admit to having no idea who Ibsen was and never having heard of the play before, but I still seized the chance to go and experience my first ever German play. That’s right, despite having performed theatre in Germany, I had never been to see a real German theatre production. Most of that has to do with the ever-present language barrier, but I figured I now knew enough German to make sense of the general storyline and if my German completely failed me then at least I could enjoy the spectacle of it all.
I wasn’t really thinking it would be a spectacle but honestly that is the best way I could describe what I saw. Actually that’s a lie. The most honest description would be ‘What the fuck did I just witness?’. It’s a question I’m still struggling to answer this morning. Now I’ve seen many a modern interpretation of a classical play, but even this doesn’t quite seem to cover what I witnessed last night. The best I can come up with is that it was a modern interpretation by someone who was taking a whole bunch of drugs at the time. Apparently weird and distinctly odd interpretations of well-known or classical plays seems to be more of the rule than the exception in German theatre. Most people I’ve spoken to have had very similar experiences seeing German productions of plays ranging from God of Carnage to A Streetcar Named Desire.
For this production a family drama taking place in a house in the 1890s had been transported to what could best be described as an underground concrete bunker inhabited by strange zombie-like school girls who kept randomly walking into walls and actors that kept putting on and removing rubber masks for no apparent reasons halfway through lines of dialogue. There was also a character who spoke some of her lines in English and would randomly switch between German and English halfway through sentences. I think the point was that she was supposed to be a foreigner, but it just added another layer of surrealness to the whole thing. However it was rather handy for getting me up to speed with some of the more stranger parts of the actual storyline.
The only positive thing about the whole event was how many young people were there. We got very cheap tickets, just €5, through the Goethe Institute and I’m guessing other schools offer something similar. Getting young people exposed to theatre, no matter how damn odd it is, is just brilliant and something I wished happened more in Australia. Imagine letting students see plays for just $5 in Sydney?? That would just never happen.
Despite all the weirdness or maybe because of it, I would love to see more German theatre, especially if I can get really cheap tickets. It was just such a mind boggling experience that I feel the urge to repeat, cause let’s face it, I’m never going to see theatre of this level of weird anywhere else in the world.