Exposing the cracks
Acclaimed German director Peter Zadek’s The Merchant of Venice has been met with rapture in Europe. On the eve of its British premiere, Peter Jinks speaks to the director about the emotions behind the production.
Some of us were disappointed by the Berliner Ensemble's version of Ant/tony and Cleopatra last year. directed by Peter Zadek. Instead of presenting the tale as a tragedy or romance. Zadek ruthlessly exposed the lovers as tuanoeuvring politicians. Critics admirineg declared it to be a landmark production. Well. perhaps it was a landmark - but a cold and impenetrable one all the same.
This year Zadek brings us another Shakespeare play starring Festival favourite Gen Voss. in The Mere/rant of lenice. It comes on a tide of acclaim: the audience roared their approval for halfan hour in Vienna at its premiere.
and they were rapt in Paris. So should ;
Ignoring convention: Gert Voss as Shylock !
we expect another diamond-hard i production like the last'.’ Dazzling. i intelligent. but ultimately bloodless“? f
It seems unlikely. The play's treatment of anti-semitism is so close to Zadek‘s heart that surely emotion will seep through the cracks in his armour. Zadek i came to England as a child refugee in I933 when his Jewish parents were expelled from Hitler‘s Germany. He didn't go back until 1958 — and was still haunted by the memory of relatives sent to the ovens in Auschwitz.
‘I went with absolutely awful feelings.‘ he says. ‘My Jewish friends in England wouldn‘t speak to me. And
yet I became interested in German
3 theatre. and the production I did was a
great success.‘ The theatre there was mostly uncommercial and heavily subsidised — thereby offering the luxury of long rehearsals and a serious agenda. It was a huge relief after the claustrophobic English world of sitting- room drama. Zadek stayed.
Voss‘s Shylock will no doubt be shaped by the actor‘s famed wit and ‘minimum methods‘. as Zadek puts it. which are very much in tune with the director's own pared—down approach to drama. Zadek conuuissioned a translation that presents the play in clear. modern German. So out goes the need for ‘Shakespearian acting'. where the actor has to almost explain what he is saying and. as Zadek points out. there is no reason from the script to follow the British convention and make Shylock into a funny old caricature
Jew. He actually speaks beautiful
‘I was particularly attracted to the play's mixture of humour and viciousness.‘ says Zadek. ‘In this production I wanted to show Shylock as assimilated. which has already offended some more orthodox Jews. But Shylock ends up as a winner. not a
: loser. That‘s what it’s basically about. I
think that since the creation of Israel. Jews no longer think of themselves as victims.‘
l The Merchant of Venice (Festival) Berliner Ensemble. Royal Lyceum Theatre. 225 5756. Tue 29. Wed 30 Aug. 7.30pm. £6—£l8. Performed in German with English supertitles.
Any list of the great European dramatists would include the name of Friedrich von Schiller, but apart from a couple of Verdi operas and the Ode to Joyfrom Beethoven’s Ninth, his work remains mostly unknown to British audiences.
Glaswegians have no excuse: in recent years, the Citizens’ Theatre has staged versions ot Mary Stuart and The Maid of Orleans, and is now to bring us his early tragedy of generational conflict and libertarian idealism, Don Carlos.
After a hometown preview, the company launches the play at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre before returning to the Citizens’ tor a three-week run. Director and designer Philip Prowse admits the production would have been difficult to pull off without Festival backing: ‘It gives us an opportunity to do something for Glasgow that we would find rather expensive without the extra input of the Edinburgh money.’
Carlos: Jill Spurrier as the Duchess of Ollvarez and Sophie Ward as the Queen
The drama revolves around a dynastic love-match between the eponymous prince and Elizabeth de Valois. Their blossoming romance is thwarted when tor political reasons, the Don’s father, Philip ll of Spain, marries Elizabeth himself, thereby adding sexual and emotional antagonism to a court already riven by ideological differences.
Forget Verdi’s focus on the lurve angle: for the German classicist, it merely extends the metaphor of political and social frustrations. It is a rallying point for the central theme of freedom of thought, a theme whose relevance survives the transition
f across two centuries.
The play also touches on the excesses of the Inquisition, and for Prowse the central thread in the complex weave of the drama is the pernicious influence of organised Christianity. ‘lt’s about young people trying to deal with a world which old people have created,’ he says. ‘Tbe concerns with youthful expression and the freedom to think and act according to conscience as opposed to religion are as true now as they were then. I can’t believe that at the end of the 20th century there should still be religious wars.’
He adds that Don Carlos is performed about ‘once in anybody’s lifetime’ - an ideal chance then to brush up your Schiller and to be reminded of history’s tragically unheeded lessons. (David Harris)
Don Carlos (Festival) Citizens' Theatre Company, Royal lyceum Theatre, 225 5756, until 26 Aug, 7.30pm, £6418.
l l l l l
Take a deep breath and indulge in some seriously hot shows, selected by Kathleen Morgan.
I The Hard IIut Mark Morris‘s
3 reworking of The lv'utcracker conceived
with undergrouiul cartoonist Charles Burns — an irreverent. witty show stretching the bounds of ballet.
'I'lte llarrl Nut (l'estii'al) Mark Morris Dance (iroup. lirlinlnoyli festival Theatre. 225 5756, 29 Aug-2 Sept.
I Nelken Internationally acclaimed choreographer Pina Bausch's ambitious creation involves a carpet of thousands of pink carnations and a spectacular fusion of dance and theatre.
Nelken (l'estiyal) l’ina Bausc/t. 'I'lte lit/inlnoglt l’layltouse, 225 5756. 3/ Aug—2 .Sept. 7.30pm. £5—£2().
I Heavy Breathing American producer and stand—up Scott Carter exposes heart. soul and a razor-sharp wit in a monologue about his life as an asthmatic pornographer.
Heavy Urea/lung ( Fringe) Scott Carter. Randolph Sttalio (lenue 55). 225 5366. until 2 Sept. 6pm. [5 ([4).
I Don Carlos Scliiller's classic and impassioned play is reworked by the Citizens’ Theatre's star act — Robert David MacDonald translating and Philip Prowse directing and designing. Don ('arlos (l‘estii'al) ('itirens' Theatre Company. Royal Lyceum Theatre. 225 5756. until 26 Aug. 7.30pm. [Ki—[[8,
I Brothers of the Brush Jimmy Murphy's funny. but poignant award- winning play exposes breadline employment. following the working lives of a group of Dublin house painters. Wiseguise revive their acclaimed production. last seen at the Citizens' Theatre. Glasgow.
Brothers oft/1e Bras/1 ( Fringe) IViseeuise. 'I'ltealre Works/top, 226 5425, I7 Aug—2 Sept (not Suns). 7.45pm. [6 ([3).
The List 25 Aug-7 Sept I995 33