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May on stage: What to see during Berlin’s biggest month for theatre

Theatretreffen is Germany's most important theatre festival, but that's only the start of what's on offer.

Photo: Dieter Hartwig

May is theatre month in Berlin. Before the houses wind down for the summer hiatus, the Theatertreffen, Germany’s most important theatre festival, collects the 10 most “noteworthy” productions of the previous year in a generous two-week festival of presentations from German-speaking venues and companies. It’s particularly exciting this time around, taking place in person and in full after two years hampered by corona. Get your hands on any tickets you still can, or head to the respective venue for returns – you’ll almost always get a seat if you try. Amongst the shows chosen is Yael Ronen’s Slippery Slope, which premiered at the Gorki last year and will almost certainly outlast the festival in Gorki’s programme.

That is not Ronen’s only show on in Berlin. The Gorki will also be premiering a new production of hers this month, Operation Mindfuck. It’s based on a concept cooked up in the 1960s and 1970s by Kerry Wendell Thornley and Robert Anton Wilson, whereby the two “mindfuckers” sowed disinformation that blamed all calamities and conspiracies on the Illuminati – a satirical experiment in messing with people’s minds. Fast forward to the 21st-century, and what have we learned since? According to the promo, the piece is “based on a true story, but not really”. See it now, so you can say you were there when next year’s Theatertreffen rolls around.

There are plenty more productions this month that bend and expand the idea of what performance can do. Returning with her own unique “kinetic” body vocabulary, dancer/performer/choreographer Kat Válastur works her magic with Eye, Lash! Channelling the ghosts of historical women who were oppressed, decapitated, abused and more, the piece ultimately explores the kaleidoscopic experience of the female artist in our times. Diverse and surprising characters – from French medieval mystic Marguerite Porete to Monkey from Portnoy’s Complaint and Lady Jane Grey at her execution, as portrayed in Paul Delaroche’s painting – all return, embodied by Válastur in a surreal fairytale world.

Sometimes a performance is so compelling that you just want to step into it – but you might think twice before entering the burning hospital bed in which Danish communist, truth-twisting reporter and self-taught photographer Ruth Berlau passed away. Zurich-based performance artists’ collective RAUM+ZEIT are working to recreate her life and death (minus the burning bed) in Berlau :: Königreich der Geister, their live installation for the Berliner Ensemble that comes complete with virtual-reality goggles for the audience. Berlau, who had a fascinating life, was a lover of Bertolt Brecht’s. This promising project offers a hugely interesting way of investigating both her and the Berliner Ensemble’s famous founder while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of performance art.

If that isn’t enough, there’s even a fringe festival on: the Performing Arts Festival Berlin, coming up at the end of the month. It really is all happening in May.

  • Berliner Theatertreffen May 6-22 Berliner Festspiele and other venues
  • Operation Mindfuck May 28-29 Maxim Gorki
  • Eye, Lash! May 3-5 HAU2
  • Berlau :: Königreich der Geister May 5-7, 9-10, 13, 15-18, 20, 23, 26-27, 29, 31 Berliner Ensemble
  • PAF May 24-29 various locations


Das neue Leben – where do we go from here

How can you resist a show that combines the work of Dante, Meat Loaf and Britney Spears? Director Christopher Rüping’s piece looks at what to do with missed opportunities of love in life and death based on Dante’s early work Vita Nova, interspersed with pop songs.

Haus der Berliner Festspiele, May 6-7

Der Tartuffe oder Kapital und Ideologie

Molière’s 17th-century play about a manipulative, money-grabbing, hypocritical preacher gets an update in the hands of director Volker Lösch and playwright Soeren Voima, as Tartuffe meets the contemporary economic analysis of Thomas Piketty. Plus ça change.

Haus der Berliner Festspiele, May 21-22