Noises Off, Frayn
Volkstheater Rostock, Rostock, Germany
„Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That's farce. That's - that's the theatre.“
The opening night of “Nothing on” is just around the corner and yet nothing seems to work: props are forgotten, doors are stuck, a contact lens is missing, a plate of sardines drives everyone crazy, an actor cannot be found and the star is in despair over her inability to memorize the text. Entangled in multiple love affairs, the big shot director slowly loses control – and madness is unstoppable.
The highly comical stage hit by British playwright Michael Frayn, a cleverly contrived play within a play, is fast-paced slapstick of the finest kind and much more than that a declaration of love to the theatre, presenting to the audience breakdowns and catastrophes as well as an unique insights behind the scenes.
The well-known comedy by Michael Frayn shows the rather catastrophic rehearsals and performances of the play "Nothing on" and entangles everyone involved in a highly comical hullabaloo. So basically it's two pieces in one. Hence the question: who you are. The director of the production "Noises Off" or the director of the performance "Nothing on"?
Yes, I sometimes I start to wonder myself. Especially when my directing instructions and those of the “other” director almost sound identical. If then an actor who is supposed to forget a prop in the play in fact does not forget it, one might get confused. Or when you are unable to tell whether the actress is limping across the stage because someone has trampled on her foot or because she is just “performing”. But that is exactly the unique magic of this wonderful farce: playing with the anarchistic-creative reality of theatre rehearsals – a daily dance on a razor-blade and a never-ending source of inspiration.
The director of "Nothing on" corresponds to the cliché of the slightly frustrated older white man. He is authoritarian, has secret affairs with two of his co-workers, loves to prohibit his actors to speak and at the same time constantly seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown himself. How do you manage to work with this guy? And isn't there a danger that your ensemble will be fed up with him and that the performance of "Noises Off" will sink into complete chaos?
Yes, absolutely. And to prevent this from happening, we kept our colleagues as far away from him as possible, which means that we tried to ban him into the auditorium. However, this was of little use, since he stormed onto the stage again and again to intervene furiously in the rehearsals. So what else could we do than to just stay calm, keep a cool head and, above all, take a look at oneself. Because somewhere in each of us there is an arrogant angry person lurking – just as desperate as or miserable old friend.
So the director of "Nothin on" will attend your performance of "Noises Off" as a spectator?
No, unfortunately, he managed to take over the process in the end. But I can understand that – for most directors it's just incredibly difficult to hold back – although sometimes it would be much more effective to stay silent. And that's why our performance actually is build on very thin ice and the actors have to save themselves from one moment to the next. Or let's better say: they try to save themselves. You never know.
The spectators will be able to experience Frayn's turbulent stage hit about the small and big tragedies of a theatre troupe also from behind the scenes. How is that possible?
The multifunctional set-design by Claudia Charlotte Burchard, thanks to the efforts of the Volkstheater workshops and the stage technicians, will be rotated 180° in the middle of the show and by that give the audience an insight into what is usually hidden from them: the heroic struggle of the theater ensemble against accidents and breakdowns.
And in addition, your staging as a comic allegory alludes to the chaos of the former GDR in its final stages?
Yes. Maybe it's because of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall. In any case, a few unvarnished real-socialist facts have simply crept into our performance here and there, contributing to the over all genius chaos of Michael Frayn's “Noises Off”.
Interview: Anna Langhoff
starring: Sandra-Uma Schmitz, Bernd Färber, Sonja Isemer, Natalja Joselewitsch, Lev Semenov, Ulf Perthel, Ulrich K. Müller, Anna Gesewsky, Steffen Schreier
stage and costume design: Claudia Charlotte Burchard
dramaturgy: Anna Langhoff
photos: Dorit Gätjen