German Expressionism In The Schaubühne
Right then fuckers.... It's here... The blog no one asked for and no one will read but there we go. It's my quick response to watching T.O's production of Hamlet from the Schaubühne.
Firstly I just wanna say some annoying shit that needs to be said. As you know if you've ever read any of these blogs before they exist to try and figure out what Art I (we/you) wanna make. I'm just writing shit down as I think about it and hopefully applying to it my work as I go on and with that in mind I have to keep on saying that we have a responsibility as Artists to try and provoke the world we'd like to see in our work. I fucking loved 99% of this show but there is a fundamental failure in that a production that takes place on a major stage in a capital city (ANY STAGE ANYWHERE) that fails to include any non-white, non-disabled, bodies. Basic shit and this is a failure; I've been guilty of it before, not saying I'm exempt, but this is a momental fuck up for a national organisation. It's worsened by the amount of state funding a building like this gets. Massive failure. But we go on because I think there's a lot to learn from this production.
Actually no sorry there are two massive failures. I think it's really important to talk about the doubling up of the Mum and Ophelia in this. Look I get it; it's Oepidal; that's really cool and clever BUT again.. In a world where female representation, payment, and opportunity is suffering the wider gesture of reducing 2 great female parts in a made heavy play to 1 is counter intuitive to the person of a state run theatre. Again we must provoke the world we want to see... (if anyone says "but he is provoking it" that's the same argument as killing puppies so that people see how horrible it is to kill puppies).
Right so anyway... Into what's happening on the stage. Firstly I was so buzzing to see this. I read his book and I saw his Richard III (screening Friday FYI) at the Barbican. I think he's properly thorough, and visually arresting, a psychologicaly deep director. He's not the radical director that people think of when they think of "German theatre" I don't think; I think there is probably much madder stuff going on in Germany that him but I do fucking love him and I think we as Artists can learn a lot from him baring in mind I'm not expert and I watched this show whilst also talking about it with friends in real time... So if I get this wrong. Cuff me.
He once said in an interview that the way into characters was through shame; if we are born with knowledge that our parents fucked then we are born into the experience of shame. As we grow older we go through shame at every juncture. We talk about shame when first fuck, when we fall in love, when have success, when we fail... Everything is about how the outside world sees us because we are embarrassed we are the spawn of our parents lust. His argument is that it's this "shame" that gives inner life to characters. I really like that as a starting place to talk about the mad shit that happens here. It's useful to think of shame as motivator for characters because it acknowledges we're propelled by our inner life; it turns first love from being "our eyes met across the ball room" into "I never thought I was good enough for anyone until I say them and they let me myself in that first moment" or "the sex was fine" to "I'm embarrassed about what my body is and what it wants but they let me fee like it was my super power" or what ever. Shame makes the passive moment active. It's a useful lesson to learn. But here's where I think it gets interesting in this show...
WHAT DOES SHAME LOOK LIKE? I know that's a mad question to ask but I think this show is properly complex and one thing I think it does it use's shame (I think, don't quote me, I'm guessing) as a way into thinking about theatrical language. The show is not trad, it's not literal, but it is active and it does tell the story. The theatrical language, to me, appears to be EXPRESSIONISM. The expression of shame manifesting in theatricality whilst the action of the scene is being played out. Now this I think is super useful and it does something that I fucking love. It lifts the story telling out of merely a staging of characters into action into A HOLOSTIC FEELING OF THE NARRATIVE JOURNEY.... It takes us into the world of pyscosis; the language of theatre where the story makes sense in our heads and we feel the narrative journey through the holistic theatrical language. Together it makes complex sense and it can only make sense within the realms of theatre.
So for example; the step Dad has a private moment where he does a little speech and whilst he's doing it he's digging up the dead kings crown. Now we know he's not literally digging up the crown but what we're seeing is a man who is dealing with the shame of killing a man and taking his crown and stealing his wife...and WANTING IT because he is not enough. We see that, we feel that, and all the time he's talking about something else. This happens LOADS in the play. In fact nearly all the way through. We understand the story because we're following the action, we're feeling it through the expressionism, and occasionally the expressionism becomes hollistic and supported by light and sound. I feel like that is the starting place for the theatrical language in this play. And I fucking love it.
Beyond making us feel the narrative whilst following the action the second thing this does is that it allows the piece to become two things. Firstly properly visually arresting theatre like PROPERLY; you can't be bored in it (my friend was but she hates Hamlet and the characters so I think she said no at the top). The second thing is that when you start to find rules within this theatrical world it starts to make more sense. We make associations of theatrical language through repetition.
For example; Hamlet uses a video recorder a lot when he's being introspective; he also uses it when he's interrogating other characters. The video camera becomes the language of interrogation of the spirit. There a fucking loads of these in here...
So the sum total of this expressionism is that is creates a world where we feel our way through the story and make sense of the action as it's played. It's like stepping into the world of psychosis but the world making more sense for having done is.
The next layer of this is the text. Now the text is, obviously, in German which, I think, frees it of the problem the English have with it... The prison of rhythm and rhyme. The play becomes a felt, Sharpe, quick play that's active. But that's not the main point. The main point is that it's all cut up. Things happen out of order and there is, I think, again I'm guessing all this, a very real reason for it. The reason I think it does this is because we need to claim Shakespeare for our time. T.O basically treats this play like a musical (hear me out). So the narrative plays as usual, with holistic expressionism, but the expressionism extends into text. The expressionism might manifest in a song, a poem, a bit of something.. Who knows.
For example in the scene with RnG Hamlet is losing his mind. So he sings Grand Master Flash DON'T PUSH ME COZ I AM CLOSE TO THE EDGE.. I'M ABOUT TO LOSE MY HEAD UH UH". For no other reason that it feels like the right thing to do in the moment, it gives us a cross cultural understand of the emotional narrative, and it throws us further into the pyscotic becoming clearer.
The big thing to remember is that all these rules are crystal clear to do this shit it needs to be right.
I also wanna talk about acting; like I don't talk to actors... If I could I'd be a director. But look there is something about Lars that is spell binding and I think it comes from Shame again. Hamlets journey from seeing the shame of his mum getting shagged by the man who killed his Da is about the releasing of shame into this child like freedom, he's messy, he doesn't give a fuck... Acting isn't about realistic truth here... It's an opera that manifests in the holistic realisation of the expression of shame through the story of Hamlet; that requires actors to be artists.. It's really obvious here.
Finally I wanna talk about how that's realised. If you were to just to read this you'd think this was a massive show. It really isn't. The cast are about 5/6. No more than we'd have here... It's just a different way of thinking. But it's DEEP and the results of it's depth and thoroughness are that the show is an amazing watch, visually arrested, psychologically deep, and utterly utterly mesmerising. How ever it did fail to think about any bodies that aren't able bodied white ones and cut down the female parts for the sake of an idea.
But lots to learn. I dunno how or where I would make a show like this but I really wanna.