Archiv der Kategorie: Harold Pinter Theatre

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Harold Pinter: The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter Theatre, London (Director: Ian Rickson)

By Sascha Krieger

60 years ago, a future Nobel laureate produced one of the biggest flops of the London theatre seasons. After The Birthday Party, his second play, opened at the Lyric Hammersmith, it was universally panned by critics and cancelled after just eight performances. Today the play is regarded as a modern classic, one of the most important plays of the second half of the 20th century. For it’s 60th birthday (!), director Ian Rickson sets out to prove it still has life in it. Not an easy task as Pinter has always been a difficult author to stage, positioned somewhere between the „classic“ absurdists like Beckett or Ionesco (two vastly different authors, admittedly), whose dramatic universe where abstract, removed, distorted parallel worlds in which logic was absent and other replaced by a sense of life as being absurd in nature, and authors like Albee who found the absurd in everyday life, in the way we treat each other, interact, communicate. Pinter had a bit of both: his plays, The Birthday Party being a prime example, are often rooted in everyday reality but are pierced with a sense of the absurd, the unexplainable, the illogical. It is as if the Ionesco universe broke into Albee’s and the two became one. Balancing the abstract and the realistic, the symbolic and the literal is the key task for any Pinter production.

Image: Sascha Krieger

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Berlinale 2018: Day 2

By Sascha Krieger

Damsel  (Competition / United States / Directors: David and Nathan Zellner)

Once upon a time in the west. A man sets out to rescue his woman from a kidnapper. Along with a preacher (co-director David Zellner as a rather pitiable specimen) to officiate the wedding and his wedding gift, a pony, he goes forth. They reach her, kill the man and, well, things go south from here. For this lady, the „damsel in distress“, has no intention of being rescued. By no-one. And yes, by the end of the film, a few have tried. Several marriage proposals later, she sets out, alone, leaving behind several corpses and one beaten down fake preacher. No, Damsel is not your usual Western despite its imagery and musical score, it isn’t even a harmless Western comedy, this is the Western film’s #MeToo. For this lady, played by Mia Wasikowska, not only will not be controlled or subdued, she will demand her own space, sets her „personal boundary“, and no, she’s not joking. The film’s strength is that it’s several rolled into one. What it sets out to do, along with Robert Pattinson as its supposed rather ridiculously serious protagonist, gets thwarted pretty soon by Wasikowska’s Penelope. She usurps the film, breaks up the male narrative and sets her own. In a whirlwind, Western role clichés are – literally, at times – blown up, the initial sunrise exposed as an unattainable fantasy. Yes, some of the humour is not too complex, yes, the point is made fairly early on, but it works almost till the end, due to man’s inability to understand he’s not in charge. Not the first time, not the second, not ever. So it has to be brought home again and again and again. Great fun and a littler more than that.

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Black 47 (Image: © Berlinale)

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Under Watchful Eyes

William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Almeida Theatre / Harold Pinter Theatre, London (Director: Robert Icke)

By Sascha Krieger

Oh, yes, there surely is something wrong in the state of Denmark. When Robert Icke’s celebrated production of Hamlet opens, we see: screens. TV footage from the late king’s funeral, later the new king smiling into the cameras, a multitude of CCTV images. Whether security or media: surveillance is everwhere in this production – as it is in the play. For, isn’t Hamlet a long succession of people spying on each other, hasn’t the royal court at Elsinore always been a surveillance state? So, transporting the story of the grieving prince, trying but failing to revenge his slain father, into an age in which the camera eye is always present, in which fear and attention are the twin driving forces leading to a society in which everyone is transparent as glass, feels rather logical. And Angus Wright’s nonchalantly plain Claudius is a perfect present-day ruler: agreeable enough, not a sore sight when smiling into the cameras, he’s an accomplished politician, slick, charming, an astute user of the media, a fine political instinct, a ruthless opportunist who knows how to play the fear card. He hardly ever gets loud, he doesn’t have to. He has the power to pull the strings and he does so in a chillingly efficient way.

The Harold Pinter Theatre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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When Darkness Comes

Edward Albee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Harold Pinter Theatre, London (Director: James MacDonald)

By Sascha Krieger

There seems to be a sense out there in what we call the „Western world“ of decline, of having our best days behind us, a desire to find our way back to a golden age when things were clearer, better, less, confusing, more black and white. In the United States, for example, a hollow reality TV character just got elected President on the stunningly meaningless promise to „Make America Great Again“. When, one might ask, was America „great“ and what was its greatness? Many point back to the 1950s, an idyllic yet modern, quiet yet industrial America unperturbed by social unrest, fresh off winning a world war, self-confident and free from self-doubt. Sure, there was McCarthy, moral oppression and a deeply entrenched patriarchal society but aren’t those minor flaws – or perhaps none at all? Edward Albee’s perennial audience favourite Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is set against this America’s backdrop. A well-respected couple, he a college professor, she the university President’s daughter, inviting a new teacher and his wife into their home. What could go wrong? The answer should be pretty well-known by now: everything. For, beyond the shiny surface lies a yawning abyss, a black nothingness of fear and desolation. The black hole of a world on the brink of distinction.

The Harold Pinter Theatre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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