Tag Archives: Dresden

Marat/Sade and German theatre

19 May

What do gimp masks, cucumbers, shorts worn as thongs, bum slapping, penises, showers, colonic irrigation and breasts have in common? No, it’s not what you’re thinking; they all appear in the Staatschauspiel Dresden’s version of “Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade” which surely competes for the longest play title ever. It is translated into English as “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade”, more commonly known as “Marat/Sade” by Peter Weiss.

The play is based around the French Revolution and depicts Marat’s call to revolution as well as the reactions and resulting disappointment of those around him. However, as you’ve probably already gleaned from the title, Marat/Sade is a play within a play, as of course I wasn’t being entertained by members of a French mental institution. In fact, as the play begins, we are even welcomed by the narrator (Ausrufer) of the play to the Staatschauspielhaus Dresden and during the play it seemed (unless I misheard) that the actors were addressed in one of three ways: their actual names; their character names as mental patients; and the name of the characters from the time of the French Revolution. Accordingly, all three time dimensions or realities seemed to merge in places.

Something I always enjoy watching (especially when it’s done right) is an actor playing an amateur actor performing a play. Of course you cannot be so awful that the audience gets bored but at the same time you need to retain a believability in a character who, here, is not only an amateur actor but also a mental patient. The allusion was created effectively through subtle mistakes being made, fake prompts, occasional moments of going off the rails and ranting about something completely off topic and the fact that the seven actors all remained on stage even when it wasn’t ‘their go’: shaving their legs; having a shower; doing yoga; reading a book; getting changed; having a nap. The actors are totally relaxed on stage and are obviously a great and supportive team- there was a great amount of nudity in the play, as well, so I guess that is needed.

It’s notable that one of Weiss’ inspirations was Brecht (writing less than a decade after the latter’s death) and that was very much evident not only in the lack of distinction between actor and character portrayed but also in the frequent songs, which I wasn’t expecting, having not yet studied the play (it will be one of my dissertation texts).

German theatre continues to amaze, shock and entertain me and I’ve been so lucky to be staying near a city with an amazing ensemble theatre. I’d seriously never seen theatre like this before. If you are into theatre, it can be so enlightening to go to see a play in a different country and in a different language. Even if you don’t understand everything, sometimes the sets, costumes and effects are worth it alone. If you happen to be in Dresden, pop along to Marat/Sade. For something a little closer to home, the RSC are performing the play in English from the 14th October to the 5th November this year. Although it will undoubtedly be a very different production, I do recommend the play and the RSC are sure to do it justice.

For a dose of German theatre in England check out NeatFestival in Nottingham where the Deutsches Theater Berlin will be performing “Faust” in German (with English subtitles). I’ve only been to the Berliner Ensemble theatre in Berlin but it is sure to be an experience at least if you can make it! (3rd-4th June). There are also other foreign language plays on.

For production photos of the adaption I saw, click here .

Not for traditionalists

17 Mar

A short trailer of the Romeo and Juliet I went to see in Dresden (it’s short and there’s no German in the trailer!)

What do you think? Shakespeare or not Shakespeare?


Hinter den Kulissen (behind the curtain)

17 Nov

The prospect of a year abroad with no theatre was not a possibility for me so I am delighted to have found The Staatsschauspiel Dresden (literally ‘state drama’). It is a repertory/producing theatre with a set ensemble and over 2010-2011 has a multiple of plays rotating both in their beautiful main house and in the studio area, as it were which consists of various stages which, when not in use, are used for rehearsal areas and free theatre workshops for the public who will later get to perform in one of the studio spaces.

Having done a bit of research before I came over, I had heard about an information evening where you could hear about these different “Bürgerbühne” (‘citizen stage’) initiatives and I plucked up the courage and went along to a workshop; it was free, at least, and an opportunity to speak German! The club went on from 6 to gone 9 and it was shattering. Improvisation in one’s native language can often be hard enough, but to pick up on it in a language where you’re still trying to find your feet is exhausting and tough work. Luckily, for the most part, the speaking aspect was not all that demanding and we were able to do some physical theatre instead but one exercise involved sitting in a circle to tell a story, with everyone adding the next bit. Trying to follow a completely made up and often ridiculous story was challenging enough without then having to add something which hopefully makes grammatical sense. In the UK I’d be making sure I’d said something witty but it’s slightly more difficult in German. Sad because it was quite an enjoyable evening but I think perhaps a bit full on.

Aside from watching plays, which I will write about in following posts, I have joined the “Vorprescher Club” (translation is quite hard but something like a making roots or pressing forwards group?) which is basically a monthly meeting for young people to learn a bit more about how theatre works. A little less demanding but still interesting and comes with the added bonus of a discount card, allowing me to buy theatre tickets for 3.50€, that’s like £2.50 or something completely ridiculous and equally amazing! The meetings are sometimes on the long side and I can sometimes get a bit lost with what’s going on but they are worth going to. By far the best meeting so far was the chance to go backstage of the main house. To tell the truth I did go a little bit geeky. Despite having been backstage of theatres before there is still something magical about it. Here, the stage is very deep and is a concave shape at the back (I assume for the acoustics). The back wall also has tiny fibre optic lights built into it which we were told are used to make starry night scenes! The stage is made up of three huge blocks which the actors stand on and which are able to move up and down, thereby creating massive trap doors, if you like, but these are also used to bring new scenery up onto the set before or during a performance as they lead to the store room below which keeps all the sets for plays that are currently in rep.  I’m unable to make it to the tour of the costume department which I’m sure will be equally amazing.

The Staatsschauspielhaus

Next posts will be my musings on the Staatsschauspiel plays I have seen during my two months here so far; Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe by Bertolt Brecht, Romeo und Julia translated from William Shakespeare, and Der Turm adapted from the novel by Uwe Tellkamp.