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Culture by the suitcase

The 17th Preetz Paper Theatre Festival
By Willers Amtrup

The 17th Preetz Paper Theatre Festival is once again a thing of the past – but it looks as if this marvellous tradition, which again was received with great enthusiasm, can be continued despite all financial shortages. I can only sum up incompletely, as I couldn't be in two places at once and was unable to see every production.

 

The Miller and His Men

The first performance I saw was »The Miller and His Men« shown by Jon Bankert and his little Vest Pocket Playhouse. The humorous introduction in front of the stage was a little play on its own and you can, of course, only agree with Bankert, when he calls this »classic« of the English Juvenile Drama basically »extremely stupid«. There followed a performance in the traditional British way of playing with scenery and figures from a magazine called »Boys of England« published in 1864. The performance was kept alive by Bankert's voice which was extremely rich in variations and irony with little interludes of singing, by fluent play with the figures in all their different gestures and culminated, of course, in the famous explosion of the mill. Bankert later admitted that he chose and played the »Miller« only because of this »big bang«.

Pirates of Penzance

The story of »Pirates of Penzance« is still more intricate and abstruse. Peter's & Peter's Pirates Show, namely Peter Baldwin and Peter Schauerte-Lüke performed the operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan in an extremely witty adaptation by themselves with scenery by Stephen Langdale: A young man was as a child by mistake apprenticed to a »pirate« instead of to a »pilot«. He had expected to fulfil his indentures upon completing his 21st year. But it turns out that he was born on February 29 in leap year and therefore remained apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday, having enjoyed only four so far. Therefore he comes into conflict between fulfilment of his duty against his masters and his tendency to be loyal to the law and to his bride – this, with some subplots, leads to quite a lot of complications, to fights between pirates and the police and finally to a happy ending under the supervision of Queen Victoria. In short: a nonsense story  – but what hilarious fun did the two Peters make of it! Mostly in English and with constantly changing voices they literally played their dialogue, sung from bass to falsetto couplets, duets and whole choirs, acted with enthusiasm and wit. It could have gone on for hours and was one of the highlights of the festival.

Der Nussknacker

»The Nutcracker«, was another musical play, performed by the Netherland Vischmarkt Theater. Harry Oudekerk used the text by E.T.A. Hoffmann for his adaptation of Tchaikovsky's ballet (»The Nutcracker and the Mouse King 1892) and portrays a Christmas Eve in the house of consul Stahlbaum. His daughter Clara receives a wooden nutcracker as a Christmas present. Later in the evening she falls asleep and dreams of a terrible confusion in her bedroom. In this dream, the nutcracker comes alive when the clock strikes midnight. An army of mice attacks the toy soldiers led by the nutcracker. Finally, the nutcracker defeats the mice and the mouse king and turns into a handsome prince. He invites Clara to accompany him on a trip to his home country, the land of sweets. All is well that ends well. The prince and Clara get married; a giant firework ends the feast – and they lived happily ever after.
Using pictures by Maurice Sendak from the British edition of the Hoffmann-tale, Oudekerk carried out an extremely successful sequence of pictures, where the various moods (for example the town in winter and the bedroom at night) were convincingly caught. More and more new witty tricks (as for example: salutes of the advancing army of mice, change of a winter tree, sea battles and the final fireworks) made the audience sometimes applause during the scenes. As you know, Tchaikovsky didn't write a fairy tale but music – which you can use in an unusual way nowadays very effectively with the help of a computer programme and still keep it recognisable. In former times (see Papier-Theater No. 20) I wasn't excited about it. But the quality Oudekerk reached this time I can accept, although I (admittedly old-fashioned) would still prefer the full sound of an orchestra. The advantage of the computer adaptation simply is that the melodies can be played at the required length, while the original version either has to be cut abruptly or played too long.

HÄnsel und Gretel

This turned out to be the dilemma of another performance with classic music, Humperdinck's »Hansel and Gretel«, given by Jens and Pauline Schröder of Bode's Koffertheater. Using reprints of m+n Reprise, this company, performing for the first time in Preetz, succeeded with a performance in the traditional style, where I especially liked the well-lighted scene of the stairway with angels. The way of speaking hardly varied between the different characters. However for the music Schröder used an original recording. And if you play the »Männlein im Walde« or the arias of the »Sandmann« and the »Traummann« in full length with all repetitions it is legitimate on an opera stage with live singers, but tiring on a toy theatre. The only successful counterexamples I can think of are Robert Poulter's complete »Robert le diable and Per Brink Abrahamsen's »Ring des Nibelungen.

Child of Wax / Ingwnya ne mfene

Music was also part of the two plays presented by Machteld van Nieuwkerk and her Puppetales. »Child of Wax« is about an African child who was unfortunately born with light skin and therefore, because he was said to be domed and infectious, avoided by the people in his village. However, he saves the favourite son of the chief from a malicious cannibal. The child gets the chance to be integrated back into society because of this heroic deed. But he rejects this offer realizing that he wouldn't be fully accepted yet.
»Ingwnya ne mfene« was the story of a monkey and a crocodile. The monkey converts the crocodile to enjoy eating delicious yellow mangos after singing pleasant songs. Scenery and figures of both plays were very loving and colourful; the shapes were clear and simple but not »simpel«. The player performed in a very expressive way – as in the entrances of the chief's wives and concubines, the cannibal in various postures and the crocodile lazily opening its mouth. Machteld van Nieuwkerk spoke all figures live in such a variety of moods that you couldn't have wished better and she included lively African songs sung with her warm charisma.

 

I now turn to four other performances, no less important than those already mentioned – on the contrary: they all were further highlights of this year's festival and have one thing in common: all scenery and figures are own original designs by the respective players.

 

Oberons Kiste

Let's start with something cheerful, namely »Oberons Kiste« by Römers Privattheater. Based on an epos by Martin Christoph Wieland, Horst Römer presented with a witty rhymed libretto (although in its use of language not yet completely convincing) the couple Oberon and Titania, who argue all the time and are telling each other the story of the medieval knight Huon. To be punished for his manslaughter the knight has to kidnap Rezia, the sultan's daughter, from Baghdad. This, inevitably, results in their falling in love with each other. Oberon tries to separate both because of his bet with Titania, but she always tries to stop him, which leads from one complication to another up to the happy ending. These are shown in a fluent range of scenes with particular witty scenes, which are often intentionally linked to medieval representations. For example, scenes Römer drew, after the well-known carpet of Bayeux, a so-called carpet of Huon, from which he and his squire literally ride away. While the two rest in the wood, the elves start with their preparations for Midsummer's night, which is shown very effectively with lightning, thunder and blue fireflies. In general the lighting arrangements throughout the play are very good. Midsummer's night offers the chance to present a whole range of interesting, amusingly designed ghosts (elves, trolls, mermaids etc.). Altogether this performance is extremely well worth seeing!

Dracula’s daughter

is also a fairytale story, half horrifying, half amusing, performed by Eric Poirier and his Théâtre L’Egrégore. The narrator Ernest tells how he met his future wife in Venice, who turns out to be Count Dracula's daughter. She takes him to the Carpathians and there, instead of, kissing him tenderly, as he had longed for, she makes him bleed and this turns him into one of the undead. Poirier acts openly throughout his play in a theatrical way.
His play starts very originally on a stage which isn't one but a stand with various advertising signs, for instance for toothpaste and essences to improve one's blood – whatever is needed by a vampire. The scene in Venice is also performed on an empty stage, just with a plain backdrop, where some postcards are fastened with clothes pegs. The journey by carriage to the Carpathians is performed as a shadow play in the base of the stage. The stage gets only completely built up for the scenes in Transylvania. This reaches a great artistic effect achieved by most economical means. I want to stress the very comical expressive and »speaking« figures. The player, being an actor by profession, spoke the dialogue in English in an impressively varied way. His French accent even underlined the »horribleness« of the story.

Pizarro

Robert Poulter and his »New Model Theatre« also leads his audience to the past. Based on dramas by Sheridan and Kotzebue he tells a tragic episode from the conquest of Peru by the Spanish leader Pizarro: The former Spanish leader Alonzo having changed sides to the Peruvians and meanwhile married to the Peruvian Cora was taken captive in a battle, but then released by the Peruvian commander Rolla, who took Alonzo' s place in prison. Later on, the Spanish manage to kidnap Alonzo and Cora's child, but Rolla succeeds in taking it and escaping. On his flight seriously wounded, he can only hand over the child to Cora, with whom he is in love, and dies.
Despite some little cutbacks – in my opinion, the rock decorations are a bit too simple – this play, too, is again another great one of Poulter! It starts furiously wit a scene in a tent and you can see convoys of Spanish soldiers marching past its back. Other convoys of Spanish and Peruvian soldiers, drawn in varying ways, are appearing from time to time. Several tricks were fascinating and very precise, for instance a bridge falling down during Rolla's flight. The separate figures, especially Pizarro, Cora and Rollo are shown in more than twenty different, expressive and suddenly changing positions. I have known such a range of variety and such precision in performing only by Poulter! Not surprisingly at this speed that the lightning changes sometimes did not work. Nevertheless: a highlight!

Dr. Mackuse gewinnt den Krieg

drawn, written and performed by the »Papiertheater der urbanen Kriminalität« from Berlin. Walter Koschwitz led us with his play, the continuation of last year’s »Dr. Mackuse kehrt zurück«, to the latest events, namely the years 1944–45 in Berlin. I have to contradict the one (and only one) single visitor who criticized the play as not being suitable for toy theatre.
The love of toy theatre has nostalgic roots, but it would die out, if it were only allowed to present stories of history, legends or fairy tales. And as many players found new ways of performing it is not only allowed but also necessary to try something new. This happens here and not only in a continuing action but also in pictures of mostly oppressive atmospheric density, accompanied by an often critical, sometimes furious text, written by Koschwitz himself. Its deliberately simple rhyme form underlines the critical content.
The comparatively long breaks for changing scenes are well covered by »commenting« music. There is shown the egoistic appearance of the winners of the war, a ghostly journey by train through the destroyed Berlin, in which ruins (drawn from original photos) pass by on an endless backdrop.
Mackuse's journey on a gondola through flooded underground tunnels, accompanied by Offenbach’s »Barcarole«. The life in an »Ami-Bar« in After-war-Berlin and finally a kind of store of Mackuse in a marvellously drawn cinema, where at the end of the war collected »Trophies« are piled up for a use in future. Some criticized the length of the play – and probably you could cut one (the last but one) scene to half of it.
Despite this: a first class experience, which, unlike most of the other performances, isn't primarily entertaining and doesn't want to be so, but arouses uneasiness with pictures and text.

 

Finally, as in the past years, I can only wish: see you next year in Preetz!

Translation by Dorett Koch

 

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