December 20, 2012 by wildducks
Last Monday, I had the pleasure to experience Coriolanus at the Deutsche Theater here in Berlin. It was spellbinding and I will tell you why. But first, I would like to share some other reviews. I got home after the performance, feeling totally jazzed about Berlin (a rare occurence these days), theater, feminism, punk-rock, and yeah, Shakespeare. I was interested to read what other people thought, so I went to the best place I knew, the internet and found about 4 reviews of this production, and what?!?! not a single positive review? It is sadly so. So I have translated a few of the reviews below, but I suggest you see it for yourself first if possible. The tickets were kind of a drawback though, 35 Euros is a bit steep, but think that it’s a night out at the bars, and voila, you will then realize it’s about the same and you will actually leave feeling something other than hung over and fucking exhausted.
- “Why oh why did the director choose to do this in the first place? The music and video were pathetic and the staging, games and sport escapades, were empty and arrogant.” (Frankfurter Allgemein)
- “Sanchez, the director, creates two hours of shallow ideas, the beginning was so dumb it could only have gotten better, or so I thought” (Der Welt)
This reviewer, however does give praise, albeit with snarky reservations to Jutta Wachowiak (Aufidius) and Judith Hofmann (Coriolanus), proving she can do something other than Puppet theater. WTF?
- “It has all the cliches of much criticised contemporary theater, but none of the typical clichés (Noodles, Nudity, etc…)”…again, WTF?. “The staging seemed rushed” (Berliner Zeitung)
- “The choice of having and all-female cast did not lead to a deeper understanding of the characters.” (RBB Kulturradio)
It seems that this critic in particular is saying that a deeper understanding of the characters of Coriolanus would be better achieved with men. Why should an all-female cast hinder understanding? It sounds misogynistic and highly unimaginative. Perhaps this reviewer doesn’t consider that possibility that having an all-female cast was not meant to induce a deeper understanding of the characters, but serves another function, that of ripping the heart out of patriarchy and tradition in Shakespearean Theater!
As usual with tabloids/daily rags (corporate newspapers), penetrating analyses and specific citations are exchanged for a range of sophisticated adjectives and the kind of “loved it or hated it” mini-rants which these papers to their shallowest core do espouse.
What these critics all miss and are too jaded to recognize, is how radical this production of Coriolanus is.
For example, we have Wachowiak, a senior actress, playing Comenius and Aufidius, both young men, playing alongside Wolff, a much younger actress, as Coriolanus’ older mother. Age becomes something that can be suspended and transgressed, and that is totally radical.
Manipulation of the fourth wall by having on-stage costume changes and audience involvement reshapes space and challenges convention. This is not only radical, but also dangerous. Dangerous because the audience becomes responsible for something other than a passive detachment within the space of the theater. Perhaps these critics are contented by being disconnected in the theater, undoubtedly scanning their german thesauruses for arcane adjectives which say nothing in particular. Demanding involvement from the audience is a radical technique.
The depiction of the battle scenes as love scenes is also radical. Haven’t we seen enough battle re-enactments, Lord of the Ring style sword duels, blood and guts Hollywood Shakespeare remakes (see Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, etc…) to last a life-time? Aren’t we looking for a deeper understanding of war and the motivation for violence? According to some critic, this production does not lend itself to a more profound understanding, but I counter precisely the opposite. We have all the battle scenes/militaristic behaviors as love-making, depicted on videos and characterized by kissing, s/m domination, and eroticism. And this is a radical concept. This offers an explanation for war, for violence as a challenge which asks you to consider war and violence as something other than its surface implies.
So, we have an all female cast in a theater which has a time-honored tradition of the exact opposite, the transgression of age specific role characterizations, and an alternative depiction of war and violence as erotic interaction. Why didn’t a single reviewer in this whole city share any of these observations?
Mass-media is a bastion of popular opinion. Popular opinion is patriarchal, ageist, and pro-war. Does anyone see anything else?