Toshiki Okada is one of the most important Asian directors. No Sex is his third work for the Kammerspiele, it premiered on 14th April 2018. A stage director and author, Okada founded the theatre group chelfitsch in 1997, which had their first international success with 5 Days in March, a play about two young people fleeing to a love hotel to have sex for five days. His latest play deals with a group of young men who think that sex no longer matters.
In summer 1968, Viet Nam Discourse by Peter Weiss, directed by Peter Stein, premiered at the Münchner Kammerspiele. Whilst the cast were taking their bows, actor Wolfgang Neuss asked the audience to donate to the cause of the Vietcong. Neuss’s text was still part of the play as written by Peter Weiss. The actors then collected money at the exits, meant for the purchase of weapons. This action caused a major scandal and led to the cancellation of the production after only four performances by the then artistic director August Everding.
After The Merchant of Venice and Elfriede Jelinek’s Wut, resident director Nicolas Stemann brought Chekhov to the Kammerspiele – The Cherry Orchard premiered in January, 2017. Stemann is not the kind of director who embraces naturalism. In his production of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock never makes an appearance. The director likes to challenge his audience with unusual casting decisions and by changing the text of the play. This time, however, the director leaves the text mostly unchanged and casts every character with one actor.
Written in 1905, The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov‘s final play. The dying Chekhov was witnessing a time of great upheaval. There were peasant revolts, the social order was being challenged because the ruling class had ignored the need for change for too long. This passivity greatly contributed to the revolution in 1917. Chekhov wrote his drama as a metaphor for the passivity of society in a time of change and its failure to create a future that is acceptable to everyone.
Once upon a time the cherry orchard used to be very profitable. The harvest guaranteed the income of Lyubov Ranyevskaya and her family and secured them a prominent position in society. But over the past years the market for cherries has dwindled and the estate has been losing money. When land owner Ranyevskaya returns to her childhood home to replenish her energy and her finances, she finds herself deep in debt – the estate will have to be auctioned off. Lopakhin, the son of a former serf, offers a solution to save the estate: Cut down the cherry orchard and replace it with holiday homes. To his former masters, this suggestion clearly demonstrates Lopakhin’s lack of culture and is immediately dismissed. The value of the cherry orchard is immaterial. Cutting it down would mean cutting down their place in society, a place that others are also striving to achieve.
Nicolas Stemann focuses on identities, but age and, on one occasion gender, are unimportant. Lyubov Ranyevskaya, who returns from Paris to find solace in her home, is meant to be a middle-aged woman with a teenaged daughter, yet is played by Ilse Ritter (born in 1944) with Daniel Lommartzsch (born in 1977) as her brother Gayev. Firs is played by the youngest actor of the cast, Samouil Stoyanov. Thomas Hauser has taken over for Brigitte Hobmeier as Anya’s governess Charlotte. Stemann’s daring casting choices work quite well in this artificial environment of representation. Samouil Stoyanov adds another, quite threatening dimension to his character Firs because he shares his reactionary views not as a doddery old man but as an energetic firebrand.
The actors do not often interact with each other but speak into microphones as if they were doing a radio play as the director wants to avoid the sentimental atmosphere of more traditional Chekhov productions. Instead, Stemann places his work in the here and now using the characters as contemporary political figures – Ranyevskaya and her family are the passive establishment, the uninspired neo-liberals are represented by Peter Brombacher‘s tired and subdued Lopakhin, the eternal student Trofimov (Hassan Akkouch) stands for the intellectual who knows the truth but is not a man of action, and Firs is a reactionary who longs for the past because everything was so much easier without freedom. His speeches become quite aggressive and threatening as he turns into the spitting image of a fierce AfD (Alternative for Germany) supporter or any representative of the alt right.
Nicolas Stemann has placed Charlotte in the centre of the production. She is not a mere governess, she is a magician, a Romani without a firm identity. After Varya, played by the great but sadly underused Annette Paulmann, states that “only a God can help us now“, Charlotte starts off the second half with her extemporised summary of the first part, which leads to enthusiastic applause. Katrin Nottrodt‘s stage is bare except for a few chairs, microphones, and some electronic equipment and resembles a workshop. Occasionally, the noise of a drill precedes the arrival of logs that are tossed onto the stage. Yet the only prop that features rather prominently is a red velvet curtain that seems rather out of place and moves miraculously whenever Charlotte deems it necessary, only to end up in the dust just like the traditional Chekhov production it might symbolise.
The excellent cast and the intriguing casting choices make this a worthwhile evening although traditionalists might not enjoy Stemann’s bold production. 4/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin
DER KIRSCHGARTEN will next be shown on 26 March 2018. To find out more about the production, visit here…
The production is in German with English surtitles.
It seems that, despite the ongoing criticism, the Münchner Kammerspiele are doing something right. Two of their recent productions are invited to the 55th Berliner Theatertreffen – Trommeln in der Nacht by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Christopher Rüping, and Mittelreich with an all-black cast, based on the novel by Josef Bierbichler and the production by Anna-Sophie Mahler, directed by Anta Helena Recke. Only ten outstanding productions from theatres all over Germany are chosen every year. (Reviews of both productions can be found on this website.)
In his comic triptych Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and The Farewell Speech, the Japanese director and playwright Toshiki Okada examines office life in contemporary Japan and explores the relationship between temp workers and full-time workers in the declining Japanese economy.
For over a decade, choreographer Trajal Harrell has taken dance to new and exciting levels. His breakthrough was the series Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Jackson Church, fusing the early postmodern dance of 1960s New York with the traditions of the Harlem voguing balls. Lately Harrell has been inspired by the works of Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of the Japanese Butoh dance. Trajal Harrell’s work has been shown in theatres in the U. S. and worldwide as well as in museums such as the MOMA in New York. After a grand-scale exposition of his work at the Barbican Centre in August, Harrell presents his first work at a German municipal theatre. This is also the first time that Harrell works with actors.
Anna-Sophie Mahler‘s musical theatre production premiered at Kammerspiele – Kammer 1 – in November 2015 and was subsequently invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen. Her critically acclaimed adaptation of Josef Bierbichler‘s 2011 novel Mittelreich returns to the Kammerspiele this month after Anta Helena Recke’s “black copy” of the production was presented in October and well received by her audience. Recke’s production of Mittelreich was an exact copy of Anna-Sophia Mahler’s work using a black cast and I am curious to see if my perception of the production would be different seeing it with the original white cast.
Toshiki Okada, one of the most important Asian directors, presents his latest work, Nō Theater, at the Kammerspiele. A stage director and author, Okada founded the theatre group chelfitsch – a pun on the word “selfish”, in 1997. His poetic-musical work focuses on the societal problems of contemporary Japan and is greatly influenced by Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, often tearing down the fourth wall. His productions have received various awards. Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech (2009), Current Location (2012) and Ground and Floor (2013) have all been shown in Europe, Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich (2014) was presented at the festival Theater der Welt in Mannheim.