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Helena Kaut-Howson On ... The Work of Dea Loher

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Helena Kaut-Howson, who is directing the UK premiere of Dea Loher's Innocence, which opens at the Arcola this week (8 January 2010), talks about Loher's work and why she remains largely unknown in the UK.

German playwright Dea Loher is without doubt one of the most prominent and exciting European playwrights alive today. Her distinctive and hugely acclaimed catalogue of plays has been widely performed all over Europe (with the shocking exception of here in the UK), receiving numerous awards and accolades. She is widely recognised as the voice of the younger generation, expressing in a vivid and original way the disenchantment and alienation of the increasingly fragmented urban society.

Dea Loher makes me re-examine my whole approach to theatre. Full of her restless, questioning spirit, her plays challenge accepted norms of theatre and defy the expectations of the audience. Having for a long time wished to bring her work to a British audience, I am delighted to finally do so at such an appropriate venue as the Arcola and with such a stellar cast: Ann Mitchell as Frau Zucker, Miranda Cook, Michael Fitzgerald, Alexander Gilmour, Chris Hannon, Caroline Kilpatrick, Meredith MacNeill, Nathaniel Martello-White, Okezie Morro, Ellen Sheean and Maggie Steed. This excellent casting is an example of the Arcola’s power to attract actors of this calibre in a play that has no leading roles.

Dea Loher was born in Traunstein, Bavaria in 1964 where she grew up surrounded by firearms rather than literature, as her father was a hunter/forester. She escaped to study philosophy and literature in Munich but was disappointed with the conservative teaching methods which made no connection between life and what she found in books (her obsession). She went on to study playwrighting at the Berlin Academy of Arts.

She was encouraged by her tutor, the radical playwright and poet Heiner Muller, to complete her first play - Olga’s Room. The play was produced at the prestigious Volksbuhne and also at Talia Theatre in Hamburg which became associated with all her subsequent work - Tattoo, written in 1991, Leviathan (1993), Stranger’s House (1997), Adam Geist, (1998), Manhattan Medea (1999), Klara’s Case (2000) and The Third sector (2001).

So, why has she been missing for so long from the British theatre scene? There is no explanation for this absence except for our traditional resistance to change, attachment to realism and conventional rules of dramaturgy. It is precisely those rules that Dea Loher challenges in her plays - and nowhere more so than in Innocence.

First staged in Berlin in 2003, Innocence is widely regarded her best play to date. Sexy and funny, the play presents five loosely connected stories from the edge of society, mysteriously interwoven to create a lyrical and darkly comic passion play for our times. Disturbing, poignant but ultimately hopeful innocence asks unanswerable questions about conscience and compassion in a disfigured world.

Though it touches on relevant social issues Innocence is not merely a play about urban alienation and loneliness, it cannot be classified as social drama nor can it be pigeonholed as ‘absurdist’ or surreal. It compels the audience to look beyond its surface, to review this story and find its new meaning, unencumbered by conventional thinking.

Innocence continues at the Arcola until 30 January 2010.


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