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Macht das alles einen Sinn?

An hommage to the Volksbühne Berlin, particularly its time under the Intendant Frank Castorf. This preview showing attracted a large audience which seemed to be almost unanimous in its excitement. Almost unanimous, because it never quite did it for me.

I guess I had two main problems. The first came up in the post-screening interview with director Andreas Wilcke. Quoting Werner Herzog: “we are film directors, we’re not garbage collectors”, Wilcke insisted that actually he is a garbage collector, picking up a little bit here, a little bit there and somehow putting it all together.

The problem is that what we get is nearly 2 hours’ worth of scenes from the Volksbühne with no real coherence or order. Its like watching your neighbours’ holiday films before they’ve had time to sort them and cut out the bits that are only really interesting to them.

My other problem was almost the reverse. Again in the post-film discussion, people talked of the anarchy and chaos of the Volksbühne which was “not like any other theatre” (knowing people on the fringes of the theatre, this is very plausible). And this is clearly important in the post-Castorf period as there are real worries that the theatre will become much more commercialized.

Yet what was shown was very much the aspects of Big Theatre, that I never really could come to terms with – the revolving stage, the large costumes, the expensive sets. My one and only incursion into theatre directing was a reaction against all that, so I felt a little unrepresented by all the show.

In amongst there were some interesting examples of how the Volksbühne has dealt with Colonialism, particularly in Algeria, and an often understated discussion about what Erwin Piscator’s theatre should be doing now, but it was all too higgledy piggledy and unstructured for me to ever feel part of the ride. Then again, my experience of the Volksbühne is relatively limited – the odd political conference and some music concerts. Maybe someone more intimately acquainted would get more from it.

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