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  • Editor’s picks: Berlin plays to catch this summer

Theatre picks

Editor’s picks: Berlin plays to catch this summer

Seduction, Shakespeare and ghoulish gameshows: what are the essential plays to catch at Berlin theatres this summer?

Photo: Stan Hema

Il Teorema di Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 film (as well as a subsequent novel) about a sexy stranger who upends a bourgeois household – seducing father, mother, son, daughter and maid and then vanishing – was already operatic. Giorgio Battistelli, one of the world’s great contemporary composers, brings it to the stage in this world premiere under the direction of the Irish theatre collective Dead Centre, known for their cinematic stagings – which was always the ideal of Teorema: once an operatic film, now a cinematic opera.

  • Jun 9, 16, 21, Deutsche Oper, Italian with German and English surtitles


Photo: Ute Langkafel MAIFOTO

In the third instalment of Oliver Frljić’s war trilogy, each actor comes to occupy the foreground of a play whose text – a medley of the work of East German playwright Heiner Müller – is poetic and whose staging, at times, produces haunting imagery. Vidina Popov captivates as an MC of the ghoulish gameshow. Not every directorial or actorly decision here cuts deep – the desire to shock and scream can simply numb – but there’s real power in this serious play that forces its audience to confront the toll of war on victims and perpetrators. Plus, it plays on Theatertag, so every ticket is only €10.

  • Jun 4, Maxim Gorki Theater, German with English surtitles

The Tempest

Could there be a more fitting play to take part in the finale for longtime intendant Ulrich Khuon? The Tempest is, after all, the story of an intendant – of course, Khuon, known for his collaborative ethos, has little in common with the malevolent autocrat who is the sorcerer Prospero. While the English surtitles might not be able to capture the painstaking translation of Jakob Nolte, Jan Bosse’s direction and Carolina Bigge’s eclectic music have received raves from spectators who appreciate how dexterous this Tempest is in providing its audience with magic of romance while lightly ironising the colonialist complicity that haunts this play.

Jun 23, Deutsches Theater, German with English surtitles

House of Dance

Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola

This comedic and cinematic production about a tap dance studio where dreams flounder is shot through with strange melancholy. It begins in the quiet half-light, when a lonely man, who secretly drinks, strikes a pose before a mirror. Taking place during the (semi) private lesson of a tap-dancing teenager who believes the next day’s competition is her ticket out of town, this dance theatre insists on dance as a storytelling device. Though the dialogue is comedic, the characters written by Satter, who created the Berlinale film Reality out of her hit play, Is This a Room, remain a little sketchy. Whatever promise these characters possessed has gone sour, but in the moments of dance, there is celebration.

As the tap dance instructor who once danced in Barcelona insists, you have to tell a story with your feet. Tapping tries to fill in what the sparse dialogue leaves out, perhaps not always successfully. But it is a joy simply to watch the piece break open through the routines. Holger Bülow, Henri Maximilian Jakobs, Genija Rykova and Hêvîn Tekin, make up a charismatic foursome who are evidently having a good time on stage. There might be no clear idea coming through, but the emotion and dance have force, and when the lights come up, the applause is deservedly loud.

  • Jun 30, Jul 3, 4, 5, Schaubühne, German with English surtitles


Photo: Ute Langkafel MAIFOTO

Sophocles’s tragedy of public grieving, where Creon’s niece resists the law of the kingdom in the name of a higher responsibility, is ready for adaptation into a fable about mourning the global catastrophe – which, due to national short-sightedness, seems fated to affect all beings of flesh and blood.

Bohm’s ambitious attempt to distil Greek tragedy into a challenging contemporary drama, so successful in her acclaimed Medea, is itself mourning the old shape of Sophocles’s original. Antigone’s complex relationships with her father, brother, uncle and the gods becomes simply a symbol of resistance against an old system, and her qualities are distributed among four depersonalised characters known only by their initials – L, E, C, J – who together channel fear for and anger with the world. The problem of her brother’s unburied body is alluded to only in the mud that the actors smear on each other.

The performance oscillates between weighty (if somewhat strident) proclamations and low-concept slapstick, without generating much in the way of plot momentum or fully fleshing out the play’s sense of systemic failure. Still, the actors do show a good deal of range, pivoting impressively from pathos to bathos and back again. And there is real urgency and conviction here – an earnest plea to reckon with the state of the Earth before we too return to mud.

  • Jun 18, Jul 1, Maxim Gorki Theater, German with English surtitles