Tuesday, March 3, 2015

100 Grad - Sunday ('Catastrophe Sunday')

'The road to hell is paved with good intentions', thought your correspondent, as I wearily arrived at HAU 2 about 90 minutes after planned, panting from a long (8.6km) walk from Pankow to Kreuzberg. After having my original plan to catch the free shuttle service from nearby Ballhaus Ost - the third venue in 100 Grad - foiled by that venue not having any events on Sunday (and therefore no bus) I decided that Sophiensaele was not too far by foot, and kept going. Waiting for half an hour for that bus from Sophiensaele to HAU, my destination, I experienced 'nature calling', and ran inside for 5 minutes, only to find that the bus had chosen those particular five minutes to arrive. Deciding that now both my planned 5pm and 6pm shows were a write-off, I saddled up again, and continued walking to HAU, briefly taking in, by force, the tourist delights of Berlin.

Gotta get that bike fixed for summer...

Hamlet Private

My good fortune finally came when I somehow caught Hamlet Private, a piece of international  microtheatre directed by Helsinki-based, Swiss-born director Martina Marti, and which had just six performances during 100 Grad over a three hour period. The work has been in Berlin before 18 months ago, and has 'toured' internationally through several different performers in different European countries. It's a one-on-one performance, and can be performed anywhere with a table, two chairs, a candle and a deck of specialised playing cards. The performer (a mystical Claudia Schwartz) sits you down and explains to you that Hamlet is 'inside the deck of cards', and then proceeds with a kind of customised tarot reading that incorporates elements of the play.

It's possible to read Hamlet as being a play entirely about Fate. The references to free will and autonomy are littered throughout the text, taking on new resonance these days by the fact that the play is so well-known, and therefore that any audience comes to it knowing, in some sense, their fate. There's a sense of inevitability about Hamlet's death drive, he is in some ways a character waiting to die, intuitively deducing that this is the only way to really resolve his inner crisis of identity and authenticity. Even a surface reading of Hamlet reveals a play obsessed with mortality. 'To be, or not to be' is at once a simple musing on the false choices that constitute an existence under sufferance. After all, if the choice is between different ways to suffer, that is, indeed, no choice at all.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

100 Grad Festival - Saturday

Berlin's annual 100 Grad (100 Degrees) festival is an opportunity for Berlin's three main independent theatre houses - HAU, Ballhaus Ost and Sophiensaele - to improve their brand and market themselves as key centres for new theatre in Europe. The rules are simple: anyone can make a submission in November each year, the performers don't get paid and come from everywhere anyway, and it costs €17 for a day pass to as much theatre as you can handle. The venues get free labour, and the performers go home with some photos of their 'Berlin stage moment', or access to an audience that, due to low expectations, are likely to see any actual art as a bonus.

If the above sounds like reluctant critique, it's because although it's clearly problematic, 100 Grad is one event where I just can't muster the cynicism. Sure, there are many things not to like, and it may be continuing a sorry tradition of Berlin being a mecca for new models of artist exploitation which are then exported to other contexts, but there's something about drifting between the three venues, meeting old friends in bars, and the unique character of each venue that leaves you spellbound, regardless of your predisposition. It's quintessentially theatre - and literally irresistible. Entering its final year this year, it will be replaced by something else next year, (probably more problematic, and developed "in dialogue with various venues, artists, and the Berlin Senate department for culture and the economy". Hmmm. Sounds exciting. Will the artists finally get that minimum wage they've been seeking over the last, well, since forever? Something tells me, no).

Not to mention the generally high quality of work. Berlin is a place where many skilled performing artists live, and many more take the chance that 100 Grad offers to come here and perform. The result is more hit than miss, and a surprising amount of artfulness for a festival that is only loosely curated.

This year, the festival runs over four days, Thursday-Sunday, and takes in a seemingly endless number of shows. A lot of dance, a mixture of mostly German and English language,

Some of which this reviewer saw - but not many.


(Minsk, Belarus)

Mauser is a militant enaction of Heiner Müller's 1970 play of the same name, which addresses a paradox of dissent and collectivity. The audience enters the space to find themselves milling about nervously on stage with their fellow audience, whilst officials roam around enacting a mock registration process. There follows an oddly choreographed text segment, which combines menacingly spoken sections from Müller's play and rigid, military movement. Finally a symbolic massacre of the audience takes placethrough the medium of balloons.