Posts Tagged ‘West Germany’

Review – Over There – Royal Court Theatre

March 6, 2009

Last night I went with J to see Over There, a new play by Mark Ravenhill dealing with the topic of German reunification. Now, I admit, I went to see this for the worst of all reasons – because there were twins playing the lead roles (Harry and Luke Treadaway). Well, that’s not entirely true – I wanted to see it because the article I read in the Observer two days before, which told me about the twins gimmick and also made the play sound like it wouldn’t suck in spite of its rather overly earnest subject matter – because, let’s face it, everytime I’ve seen a play about current events, it’s either been nauseatingly preachy/self-loving or just generally lame due to unimpressive plot and characterization (“Gesthemane“). This, however, not only had twins, but (per the story) was actually more about how the East Germans actually have a fair bit to be pissed off about. This sounded like a really refreshing viewpoint. I mean, talking about it with my cube neighbor at work, she kept harping on about how expensive it was for the West Germans and how resentful they were and how the East German factories were all crap, anyway. So, if that’s the viewpoint I’ve been hearing for ten/twenty years, what’s REALLY been happening? I thought this play might give me a better idea of the truth of the story rather than the, “We saved the East Germans from their own backwardness” attitude that seems to be the party line out here in Freedomland.

Now, before I get into it with the play, I want to talk about what was actually really interesting about this show (aside from the fact it was 70 minutes long and my seats were only £12 – and genuine Corinthian leather): it did actually make me aware of the … perhaps limited is the word? … nature of the theater I’ve been watching. The article mentioned that English theater’s “restrictive naturalism,” and German theater’s “liberatingly playful” nature, and after seeing this show, I am really wondering about what I have bought into here with all of the theater I keep piling into my brain. Am I becoming the master of a tiny slice of world theater – and completely ignorant of anything else that is out there? Would I only ever see shows through the filter of the English language theater scene because of my own limitations? And what is that keeping me from getting to see and appreciate? Or, maybe, is this the only kind of stuff I could really enjoy, anyway? I certainly don’t get much out of theater spoken in languages I don’t understand, but if I see it done here, in translation, I am only seeing the same style imposed on different words.

And, I think, much of what I enjoyed about this play was the way it joyously ignored the existence of the theatrical reality that might have held it back. NOTE: SPOILER ALERT, SUMMARY: FUN SHOW. The story wasn’t really about the twins’ relationship, or their development as human beings; it was a full-on, full-length, extended metaphor for the assimilation of East Germany by West Germany, with each of the twins representing one side far more than they were meant to be real people. It was all delightfully removed from reality, from the sponge that stood in for the West German’s son to the scene in which the East German brother covered himself with flour and Nutella and was then mopped off by his brother (in a scene wildly reminiscent of Karen Finley’s performances, though it contextually was triggered by “Ostalgie” rather than abuse). What I got out of this show was that actually there were far more things going on well in East Germany than we (as in “we, western capitalist civilization”) have been willing to admit, or even knew about, and that West Germany may really have been quite the arrogant colonizing force, perhaps even a bit … cannibalistic toward their supposed “brothers” in the east.

But (you may ask), how was the “gimmick?” You know, the part where it was a show about two twins … played by two twins? While I fear it may make the show difficult to produce in the future, this really worked for me. To have East German Karl (Luke Treadaway) have shared experiences with West German Franz (Harry Treadaway) via “special twins telepathy” seems really silly, but somehow just close enough to what people expect of twins to be a completely acceptable trope. And to have them speaking together simultanously – the blending of voices couldn’t really happen so well with any other people (though even they didn’t synchronize quite right at times). The costuming and makeup were also quite helpful. Even though the guys did several scenes in really horrifying tighty-whites (or in this case reddies and greenies), the way Karl’s hair was fluffed up and unfashionable always made him look different from Franz. Furthermore, their physiques (visible rather a lot given the underwear scenes) showed viscerally that two people could be in close in blood and thought as these two were supposed to be, and yet the condition of their existences would still cause them to be differentiated from each other as adults, much as Franz and Karl have different attitude about what they value in life and what goals they should work for. (That said, the telepathy bit made it really hard for me to believe that neither knew of the other’s guardian parent’s death … which I wondered meant either that they were lying to each other or that their initial enthusiasm for the innocent versions of each other, i.e. when they first met, was becoming overlaid with lies and concealment of their feelings as they grew to know each other better.)

At any rate, I found this quite entertaining, though you should be warned it features both masturbation (hands in shorts, no genitals visible), a naked butt, and a man (in a TRULY jaw-dropping moment) doing an on-stage “tuck” so he could perform a nude scene as a woman. WOW. These guys are really brave actors! And did he ever need a towel to do his bow. I recommend this show, but be sure you know what you are in for because this was _not_ what I expected – more like Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” than anything else I could compare it to, absurdist to the core.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 5th, 2009. “Over There” continues until March 21st. Another take is also available courtesy of the WestEnd Whingers.)

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