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Gob Squad’s Sarah Thom on their Brexit-inspired I Love You, Goodbye

INTERVIEW! Ahead of their upcoming performance "I Love You, Goodbye – The Brexit and Beyond Edition" on Jan 31 at HAU1, Gob Squad founding member Sarah Thom talks 25 years of the collective, postdramatic theatre and kitchen patriotism.

Image for Gob Squad's Sarah Thom on their Brexit-inspired I Love You, Goodbye

Photo by Michael O’Ryan. Sarah Thom was born in Huddersfield in the United Kingdom in 1962. In 1994, she founded Gob Squad with Sean Patten, Berit Stumpf and Johanna Freiburg in Nottingham. Later additions to the group are Sharon Smith, Bastian Trost and Simon Will. Gob Squad has called Berlin home since 1999.

Much about Gob Squad doesn’t square with tradi­tional notions of German theatre: they don’t use scripts, im­provise heavily and shun hierarchies. For the past 25 years, the idiosyn­cratic British-German collective has channelled a collaborative, multi­media approach to theatre that has taken them around the world. The once-students of applied theatre studies are now textbook examples of postdramatic performance art in action – and the seven-strong group shows no signs of slowing. This month their Brexit-inspired I Love You, Goodbye returns to HAU for Britain’s next scheduled depar­ture date from the EU.

You’ve been invited to HAU’s cel­ebrations for the 20th anniver­sary of Hans-Thies Lehmann’s seminal book Postdramatic Theatre. What influence did it have on you?

To be honest, the closest I ever came to the book was when my son came home from his theatre studies course and said, “oh, I didn’t know you did postdramatic theatre”. Academic institutions actually started putting us on their curriculums quite early on in our ca­reer. I think teachers were desperate for groups like ours to use in their classes, not just because of what we were doing on stage but how we work. We’re a collective without a director that works in a non-hierar­chical way.

That stands in stark contrast to the lone genius cult of German theatre. Has it been hard to keep Gob Squad going?

Working collab­oratively is inefficient, it’s hard and it takes up a great deal of time, but it’s the political corner­stone of the group. In my younger punk days, I naively didn’t realise that culture is a busi­ness. You have to keep making work that is rel­evant, that’s on point and that feels right for you. Sometimes it feels like a theatre factory. What I find really dif­ficult is making work fit into institutionalised grant applications. We have to pay our rent and when there’s seven of you, that money is divided between all of us. We are really lucky though, Berlin has been extraordinarily good to us.

You’re performing your fourth edition of “I Love You, Goodbye” on Britain’s new scheduled departure date from the EU. The most recent version in Frankfurt was titled “Unfuck my Brexit Edition”. This time it’s “The Brexit and Beyond Edi­tion”. That sounds more opti­mistic.

Sadly, I think that Brexit will happen. At the March premiere for the original Brexit day, there was still a feeling that maybe we could stop it. Unfortunately, there’s now an acceptance that it will happen. So we wanted to look beyond Brexit and see what the future could hold.

In the performance, you reflect on the British-German iden­tity of the group through food. Can food say something about our identities that other things can’t?

We felt that it was a way to talk about identity being nationalis­tic. Berit can get very, very passion­ate about her “Grüne Soße”, but that doesn’t make her a patriot. For me, it’s beans on toast. I love it, I stick with it. You can have it for breakfast, dinner and tea. Straight out of a tin! You don’t have to heat it up but you can if you want. There is, of course, a class dimension to this too. I am aware I play the working class card, but it’s something I’ve only begun to embrace in the past five years. In an arts context, I was worried that it would get in my way.

I Love You, Goodbye – The Brexit and Beyond Edition | HAU1, Kreuzberg. Jan 31, 19:00.