Jo Caird: Sprechen Sie Deutsch?Date: 17 November 2011
I spent a few days in Frankfurt this week and while I was there I decided to go to the theatre. I've heard a lot about contemporary German theatre – various people I know absolutely rave about it – but I've never been to Germany before, so was eager to experience it for myself.
It's worth mentioning at this stage that I don't speak any German at all. But despite this obvious flaw in the plan, I found myself in 'Platz' 11, 'Reihe' 3 of the Kammerspiele at Schauspiel Frankfurt, one of the city's leading theatres. I had opted for Alice im Wunderland, on the presumption that at least I would be familiar enough with the story to be able to more or less keep up with the action. How wrong I was. This was no ordinary Alice in Wonderland, but an avant-garde, all-singing, all-dancing, one-woman Alice in Wonderland and therefore a source of bafflement for me for almost the entire 75 minutes of the show.
This bafflement didn't stop me enjoying Alice im Wunderland, however. The beauty of barely understanding a single word of the performance is that essentially I can now decide for myself what the show was about. I recognised certain elements of Lewis Carroll's story – the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the 'Eat Me' and 'Drink Me' potions – but my ignorance of the language meant that the director (Phillipp Preuss) and dramaturg's (Sibylle Baschung) particular interpretation of the piece went nearly straight over my head. I took away from it that the Alice of this Wonderland is a young woman undergoing an existential crisis, confused and angered by the situation she finds herself in, but that's about as far as I got.
Not being able to understand what the actor playing Alice was saying, however, didn't stop me from admiring her performance. In fact, I think I was more aware of the physicality of Valery Tscheplanowa's superb portrayal, as well as her excellent vocal control, than I might have been if the circumstances were different. My attention was also drawn to the musician accompanying and underscoring her. Dressed in a high-necked Victorian frock as a mirror to that latterly worn by Tscheplanowa, Cornelius Heidebrecht used a loop machine and laptop, as well as his haunting voice, to create an extraordinarily vibrant soundtrack to the piece.
In general I like my theatre comprehensible, but seeing a show in a language I didn't understand was a fascinating experience and one that opened up the production for me in unexpected ways. Next time you're in a country whose language you've not yet mastered, I urge you to take a chance on a show there and get a taste of another culture's theatre scene. Hals- und Beinbruch!