An Ordinary Man

Kenneth Lonergan: The Starry Messenger, Wyndham’s Theatre, London (Director: Sam Yates)

By Sascha Krieger

The Starry Messenger, first performed on Broadway in 2009, is a labour of love. In it Kenneth Lonergan, since awarded with an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, remembers a teacher he encountered as a teenage by at the now long demolished Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Together with his childhood friend Matthew Broderick, Lonergan felt inspired by this quiet, serious man and started imagining his life story. Completed, it was Broderick himself, who brought the anonymous teacher to life and does so again in this year’s revival. This Mark in an introverted man, full of inferiority complex, of feeling inadequate, and in love with science. A husband and father, loving, yet not very good at showing emotions. Facing a (final?) career chance, an unlikely romantic encounter and hostile final class at the soon to be disappearing planetarium, he feels the pangs of middle age, the disappearance of opportunities, the running out of option.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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The Man in the Middle

David Mamet: Bitter Wheat, Garrick Theatre, London (Director: David Mamet)

By Sascha Krieger

Dvid Mamet is not only one of the world’s most popular and successful playwrights – as a prolific screenwriter with two Oscar nominations under his belt, he also possesses expert knowledge of the workings of the film industry. A play based on the #MeToo movement’s pivotal moment of the scandal involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein therefore carries with it an expectancy of exclusive insights and the sharp direct tone Mamet has become synonymous with. But there is also doubt, as Mamet’s own gender depictions have traditionally received some criticism. The world premiere of his latest play Bitter Wheat, directed by Mamet himself, meets – at least partly – all these expectations. His Weinstein is called Barney Fein, a vulgar, expletive-happy, larger than life brute, manipulative, persuasive, openly abusive. John Malkovich, that most physical of Hollywood actors, that expert in cynicism and leering threat, is his perfect embodiment. His heavy body does not inhabit the stage, it usurps it, conquers it, holds it hostage.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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A Family Sketch

Jack Thorne: the end of history…, Royal Court Theatre, London (Director: John Tiffany)

By Sascha Krieger

When author Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany last teamed up, they created the imaginative whirlwind that is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that is still wowing sold-out auditoriums three years later. Their latest collaboration is a lot more personal, intimate, and has a very different scope. Partly autobiographical, the play charts a family history over 20 years. The parents are leftist idealists who have named their children after some of their heroes – Karl Marx, Thomas Paine and anthropologist Polly Hill – their offspring struggling to find their ways through parental expectations in a way less ideological and idealist age. High-flying daughter Polly becomes a corporate lawyer, older brother Carl a failing family man while rebellious Tom turns out to be a struggling would-be artist. All lost, all successes and failures at the same time. We meet the family three times: in 1997, just after Tony Blair’s election, and then again ten and twenty years later, the last time just after mother Sal’s death.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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Hunters and Deer

Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, adapted by David Farr: The Hunt, Almeida Theatre, London (Director: Rupert Goold)

By Sascha Krieger

In his film The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg tells the story of an elementary schoolteacher falsely accused of sexually abusing a young girl. It depicts how he is ostracised, shut out from every aspect of community life, how his friends become a mob and fear turns into hate. It does so with stark naturalism, focusing on the everyday, the day to day struggles that form the nightmare that is bow his wife. In their tight theatre adaptation, David Farr and Rupert Goold swap the realism for a more ritualistic approach.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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Make-Belief Humans

Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic Theatre, London (Directors: Marianne Elliott & Miranda Cromwell)

By Sascha Krieger

Reality is a fickle thing. In Arthur Miller’s classic, travelling salesman Willie Loman increasingly loses his grip on it, getting swept up in memories, fantasies and long lost dreams. In the Young Vic’s new production, reality is not much to begin with. Anna Fleischle’s set focuses on fragments: door and window frames hang suspended from the ceiling, so do pieces of furniture, they are lowered or brought forward when needed, providing an illusion of reality while emphasising its sketchy nature. The world is skeletal, no more than a hint of a physical presence long dissolved or never existing in the first place. Willie Loman is a man of illusions, of elaborate dreams, a captive of self-deception, a victim of his own make-belief. This is the world he lives in: a vague idea of a half-realised reality in which nothing has substance. So it doesn’t really matter whether we’re in the present or the past, the „real“ or the „imagined“. All of this is a fantasy, born of the dream that’s called American, of its promise and its lies.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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In Trump’s World

Lynn Nottage: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse / Gielgud Theatre, London (Director: Lynette Linton)

By Sascha Krieger

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage has established herself as a chronicler and theatrical seismograph of the American working-class and its disappearance. When Sweat premiered in 2015, it seemed hard to imagine that those the play portrays would just a year later sweep the most dangerous president the United States have seen into the White House. Yet looking at the play now, it seems wuite prophetic, a precise and early analysis of the seismic shift that has plagued lower-class America and the conflicts half-buried and fully ignored for too long. In it, Nottage depicts a derelict industrial town, founded on a steel mill that has been a second home to many for generations. Catalysed by the now infamous NAFTA agreement of 1994, things change: pay and benefits are cut, workers locked out, replacements recruited, the fabric of the community destroyed. Friendships and loyalties are teste, racial conflicts emerge as communities are divided by those for whom this makes it easier to conquer them. Sounds familiar?

Image: Sascha Krieger

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Circle of Money

Stefano Massini: The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre / Piccadilly Theatre, London (Director: Sam Mendes)

By Sascha Krieger

Stefano Massini’s play is a massive effort: it attempts to do no less than to transform the rise and fall of a Jewish immigrants‘ business empire into a panoramic painting of American capitalism, coupled with a lesson in Jewish consciousness. No surprise that it takes on the form of an epic, a narrative spanning almost two centuries and various generations, in which the protagonists are tossed among the waves of time, complete with an at times almost chant like language, full of repetitions and enumerations, clearly schooled in Homer, individuals in the grip of fate – but, here the comparison ends, a fate at least partly created by them. Sam Mendes‘ production starts with the end: a janitor cleans out a conference room full of cardboard boxes and closes behind him. The Lehman Brothers story has ended, the bank being the most prominent victim – and perpetrator – of the 2008 financial crisis. And then it begins again: an old man dressed in mid-1800s clothes, enters the glass cubicle, the panoramic background changes from present day New York to the sea on which Hayum Lehman, soon to be called Henry arrived. Simon Russell Beale plays the company’s founder, soon to be joined by Ben Miles as Emanuel and Adam Godley as Mayer.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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The Masked Singer

Film review: Rocketman (Director: Dexter Fletcher)

By Sascha Krieger

Not only is Elton John, pardon, Sir Elton John, one of the planet’s greatest pop and rock stars of the past four decades, he is also ultimate showman, the supreme master of masquerade, the undisputed champion of the world in (re-)inventing himself. Director Dexter Fletcher, who recently stepped in to finish a film about another unrivalled show beast specialized in re-imagining himself constantly in Freddie Mercury, does well to – unlike Bohemian Rhapsody – eschew the limitations of the biopic and throw himself and his brilliant star Taron Egerton, who recently in Eddie the Eagle proved himself to be a master of disguise, into a variety show of a film, a carnival of sorts, a two-hour long exercise in role play and imagination. It starts with a bang: A wildly costumed Elton John, dressed in a spectacular orang and red winged devil’s outfit, storms into a building, pushes doors open and ends up – in a therapy session for alcoholics and other addicts. A place to reflect on his life and its choices – but also yet another stage for the impeccable showman.

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Im falschen Film

Jan Koslowski, Thilo Fischer: Die Alleinseglerin segelt allein!, Ballhaus Ost (Regie: Hannah Dörr und Jan Koslowski)

Von Sascha Krieger

Remakes sind ja bekanntlich – wieder? immer noch? jetzt erst recht? – in ModeWarum eine neue Idee suchen, wenn jemand schon mal eine gute hatte? Das Theater des aus dem Volksbühnen-Universum in Form von dessen Jugendtheater P14 stammenden Jan Koslowski war schon immer ein recyclendes, ein Vorlagen aufnehmendes und durch den theatralen und diskursiven Wolf drehendes. Das konnten überkommene Konzepte und Rituale von Erwachsenwerden oder Freundschaft sein oder – und nicht selten sowohl als auch – mediale, massenkulturelle Vorlagen, Vorgaben, Vorbilder. Sein gemeinsam mit Michel Decar entwickeltes Projekt Kevin allein im Universum ist ein gutes Beispiel. Auch jetzt, im Ballhaus Ost, macht er sich wieder an ein Remake. Oder besser gesagt, er behaltet die scheiternde Entstehung eines solchen. Bei der Vorlage handelt es sich um Die Alleinseglerin, einen in der Spätphase der DDR 1987 entstandenen Film des Coming-of-Age-Experten Hermann Zschoche über eine alleinerziehende Mutter, die ein marodes Segelboot erbt und sich zunehmend obsessiv in dessen Restauration verrennt, wobei ihr der Rest ihres Lebens entgleitet, eine durchaus ambivalente Emanzipationsgeschichte.

Bild: André Simonow

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Der Lärm der Gegenwart

Andris Nelsons und Daniil Trifonov mit Werken von Skrjabin und Schostakowitsch zu Gast bei den Berliner Philharmonikern

Von Sascha Krieger

Das ist ja noch einmal ein veritables Gipfeltreffen zum Ende der Philharmoniker-Spielzeit. Das letzte Konzertprogramm in der Philharmonie vor dem Beginn der Ära Petrenko (das Waldbühnen-Konzert läuft ja ein wenig außer Konkurrenz) glänzt zumindest mit Star-Power. Mit Daniil Trifonov ist nicht nur der diesjährige „Artist in Residence“ zu Gast, sondern ein Pianist, den manche, zumindest was die technischen Fähigkeiten betrifft, längst mit den ganz Großen der Geschichte in einem Atemzug nennen. Und am Pult steht – knapp neun Jahre nach seinem Philharmoniker-Debüt – Andris Nelsons, einer der größten Namen der Szene, einer der zu den Favoriten auf die Nachfolge Sir Simon Rattles zählte und jetzt zwei anderen der wichtigsten Orchester der Welt vorsteht, jenen in Boston und Leipzig. Da ist ein großer Abend vorprogrammiert – und doch muss der Rezensent zur Pause eingestehen, dass ein solcher Star-Überschuss – das vielleicht weltbeste Orchester ist ja auch noch da – mitunter auch kontraproduktiv sein kann. Alexander Skrjabins selten gespieltes einziges Klavierkonzert – bei diesem Klangkörper zuletzt vor 109 Jahren zu hören – fällt dem zum Opfer, was in solchen Fällen zuweilen passiert: Weil jeder (die männliche Form ist Absicht) seine Fähigkeiten demonstrieren will, wird aus der gemeinsamen musikalischen Arbeit eine art Wettstreit, bei dem nur eines gewinnt: das Zuviel. Das mag daran liegen, dass beide Protagonisten sich noch im ersten Drittel, vielleicht gar im ersten Viertel, ihrer Karrieren befinden: Trifonov ist 28 und Nelsons gilt mit seinen 40 Jahren auch noch als „junger Dirigent“.

Andris Nelsons (Bild: Monika Rittershaus)

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