Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
Opened 25 September, 2010

Kristin, the scorned and lovelorn cook, gets almost as raw a deal from playwright August Strindberg as from Jean the valet and Miss Julie. Even when she is present, she might as well not be, for all the consideration they pay her in their entanglement of sex and power. In this free adaptation, though, the other two move into the background as Kristin is the focus. We see her conducting Midsummer night rituals to invoke her beloved Jean, eavesdropping on the others’ exchanges from behind the door or through the floor of her bedroom, and generally leading a life of quiet desperation.

In fact, Kristin is not merely in the foreground, but everywhere else as well, often simultaneously. Jule Böwe may busy herself behind the windows of the servants’ parlour upstage whilst, in an audio booth at the side of the stage, Cathlen Gawlich recites her interior monologue; downstage right, her hand actions may be performed in detail for close-up shots at a table, whilst down left, live sound effects are added at another. All the components are mixed by co-director Leo Warner into a live video feed on a screen above the action. For this is Katie Mitchell’s Berlin début, one of her deconstructivist stagings which show us how the drama is put together. Everything is rigorously thought out and tightly marshalled (except for occasional glitches such as a wrong camera shot on press night which showed us cellist Chloe Miller getting into position), but I am afraid it remains as pointless to me as when I first saw it.

What kind of theatre is it that restores the fourth wall, so that – some windows notwithstanding – we can only properly see the live action onscreen? If we are to see sound and music being added live, where is the consistency in also using pre-recorded elements? If those sound effects are obtained simply by doing exactly what is being done by the performers, why not mike up the stage instead? Above all, if the point is to show us how even a supposedly live theatrical experience is mediated, what is the point of that when it goes so far as to render the actual play chosen almost incidental? Concentrating on Kristin is a terrific idea; if only we could see it done as theatre rather than as a live sub-Bergman film.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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