Flashback: The Birthday Party

Harold Pinter’s play The Birthday Party had its London premiere – on this day in 1958 – at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. The critics didn’t take to it and shot it down in flames – it was taken off after not even a week’s run. What made the play so controversial, and why is it still met with a mixed bag of emotions today? You’re about to find out.

Written during a prolific phase in 1957 that also saw two of his other plays set in claustrophobic rooms come to life – The Room and The Dumb Waiter – all of these rooms experience an invasion by unwanted intruders. This is about as much of a theme as we get; any approach to interpreting the play is an attempt as volatile as trying to penetrate a sealed and impervious surface with a toothpick.  Pinter himself never gave any explanation either, thereby evoking James Joyce’s concept of the artist “like the God of the creation, [who] remains […] above his handiwork […] paring his fingernails.”

British society at the time experienced massive changes. The NHS came to live,  social-housing schemes introduced and a solid education available to everyone in British society. Plays that merely depicted the lives of middle-class people ceased in popularity, seeing a new wave of plays such as Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot sweep the stages of the country. Against this backdrop of changes in politics, society and education, the theatre of the absurd became a loose movement where events and actions remain unexplained and illogical, not pursuing any kind of particular theme.

What was new and to a certain degree outrageous about The Birthday Party was what fellow playwright David Campton described as the ‘Comedy of Menace’. With Pinter, elements of intertextuality and an interplay of meta-stories, myths, archetypes and what’s today called lampshading proved too much for his contemporaries to stomach. Audiences were left bewildered by a play that was told in a very conventional way, but then let the action drift off and play with the audience’s perception of how a play was supposed to evolve. This posed too big a challenge to the audience and critics in the late 1950s, a circumstance that wasn’t helped by the use of language that was markedly poetic and laced with metaphors. To sum it up, an appreciation of the absurd had not yet found its way into people’s minds and is exactly what makes The Birthday Party so mysteriously nubile today.

I like the play as it keeps you in suspense throughout, conveying a world without any outside authority or governing moral values. The protagonists are the ‘bad guys’ who define arbitrary values. However, the absurd element of the play prevents the plot from following up on deeds in a way logical to human conduct in a way you’d expect it from conventional storytelling. There are stark allusions to death and violent revenge that, albeit never come to fruition, keep lingering on like a subtle charm of malediction. The two intruders are the harbingers of spiritual and psychological destruction, and none of the other characters have the guts to confront or even question them. And yes, some of the dialogue – especially the scenes involving Goldberg – is razor-sharp and witty in a way only Pinter could write it.

Photo by In Defense of the Artist shared under the CC-BY-2.5 license

Casting Call for Eurydice

Thespians assemble! We’re casting for our new show Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl!

The famous myth of Orpheus reimagined – this play follows his lover Eurydice’s journey to the underworld. After Eurydice dies on the two lovers’ wedding night, Orpheus, consumed with grief, tries to reach her in the land of the dead. While he tries to find a way into the underworld, Eurydice meets her dead father, but all her memories of him and her love have been washed away by the river of forgetfulness. Suspended between life and death, Eurydice tackles themes of love, loss, and connection.

We welcome people of all ages and backgrounds to our auditions. Come join the fun on the 4th of May!

Sign up here until the 1st of May!

Here’s your chance!

English Theatre Leipzig will be holding an open audition for its March production on Saturday, January 26 from 1 to 3 pm at the Neues Schauspiel Leipzig, Lutzner Str. 29. If you want to act, come around and join the fun. No need to prepare anything, just show up. See you there!

Shakespeare: A Different Approach

With our productions for 2018 done, it’s time to start looking forward to 2019 and a new year of theatre with English Theatre Leipzig.

As you may have seen in your programme for The Mysterious Mr Love we are offering a Workshop in January and February 2019. Six sessions, three hours each, during which we’ll go through the basics and not-so-basics of creating a believable performance using William Shakespeare as our guide.

The Workshop will be led by English Theatre Leipzig member Peter Hubbard, who will bring his experience working with former and current members of The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Globe, and The Factory to Leipzig.

The secret is in the Verse

Director Tim Carroll, who founded The Factory theatre company and has directed Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry at The Globe in Twelfth Night (see https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5622262/?ref_=nm_ov_bio_lk1) wanted to find a way of performing Shakespeare’s classic plays so that anybody could understand them. By paying special attention to the rhythm and verse of the text, performers can unlock the secrets of Shakespeare’s words and bring them to life. Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter allows him to stress the most important parts of each line, and performers can use these cues to understand their texts better and deliver honest and true performances.

What we’ll be doing

Here’s an outline of the first six sessions:

  1. A Different Approach
  2. Learning the Text
  3. Working with the Text
  4. Rhythm and Voice
  5. Working Together
  6. Performance: MSND Act 2 Sc 1

Looking forward

This workshop is not just to learn about acting, it’s to build on our English language theatre company in Leipzig. We hope the workshops will become regular features so that Leipzigers can hone their skills and work with us in our annual productions.

Interested?

For only €60 (€40 concessions) you can join this unique programme! Places are limited, but our sign-up sheet is open! Fill it out with your details here so that we can place you correctly:

https://goo.gl/forms/nNYPIhSB5z836ctn1

The workshop dates are:
12, 19, 26 January 2019 and 2, 9, 16 February 2019 from 10h00 to 13h00 at Etage Leipzig: http://etageleipzig.de/

Got any questions? Add a comment below or email us at workshops@englishtheatreleipzig.de

We’re looking forward to working with you at our first workshop!

 

 

 

Flashback: Marketplace 76

Wednesday, November 20th 2013, Marketplace 76 by Jan Lauwers & Needcompany at the Théâtre Molière de Sète.

During my first year of theater studies in Montpellier, I was told by a teacher to go see the show Marketplace 76. A few of my fellow students and I went there together, very excited to discover something new. My seat was in the back on the left, I sat and waited for the show to begin. The show was about a gas explosion happening in a village. They talked about how the survivors deal with each other despite grief, incest, pedophilia, suicide, and kidnapping.

While watching this show I couldn’t think of anything else, no time to check my watch, no time to remember when the last tram runs. I was fully absorbed by the singing, the dancing, the acting, and the scene coming to life in front of me. They were talking French and English, there was snow falling from the ceilling, dance metaphors that said things that would have been too hard to watch. I laughed, I cried, I squeezed my fists, I cried again, and at the end I was left empty.

I knew that theatre was what I needed in my life, but at the time, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted. This show made me understand which “kind” of theatre I wanted to do. So a few years later, I decided to pack my things and move to Germany. My goal was to get to act in different languages and to go on stage to make the audience feel the same way that I was feeling on that night of the 20th of November 2013.

Thank you, Jan Lauwers & Needcompany.

Proof Crowdfunding

Support our crowdfunding campaign on StartNext!

As a non-profit organization, English Theatre Leipzig is only focused on creating a product that our audiences can enjoy seeing, and that we can enjoy making. For the members of ETL and everyone that assists in the productions it truly is a labor of love. The company has no salaried employees. However, that does not mean there are no expenses in putting on our shows. Material costs for sets and costumes, printing costs for programs and promotional materials are just a few of the things that ETL must pay for.

Up to now, ETL has always sought, with success, to cover its operating costs through membership dues and the ticket sales from our productions. A number of issues are working against our continued financial stability, but two stick out above the rest. First, as we become more ambitious in the shows that we are putting on, the associated production costs also rise. Bigger set, more technical equipment, larger cast, etc. mean more costs. And second, practically all of the production costs are paid out before one single member of the public can buy a ticket and sit before the stage to see our work. Naturally we plow any profits from one production into the next one (with the possible exception of a small ETL contribution to the members’ parties, which are legendary). But we are always trying to catch up with expenses after the fact.

Therefore, in an attempt to address this problem, we have created a crowdfunding call that is destined to cover the costs of the props and scenery for Proof. To go along with the incredibly good feeling you get from contributing to our production, we have kicked in a few selected gifts based on your level of generosity. So, please go check it out at:

https://www.startnext.com/english-theatre-leipzigs-proof/