All the World’s a Stage

Photo of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

When you’re in Berlin, and it’s freezing cold, do like the Berliners do: retreat somewhere inside where there is both enchantment and entertainment. A little café and a gleeful group of friends could be enough, but one should not disregard the arts either. The city’s cinemas and theaters can generously contribute to the getting-to-know-Berlin process in an unforgettable manner. To give respite from wrestling with the German language in class, occasional projects are pursued by language coordinator Dirk Deichfuss and students. One such project was an evening at the Comedy Theater on Kurf?rsterdamm, which combined crowd gazing with three hours of a surprising Shakespeare cavalcade. Spurred by the curiosity of seeing the English bard’s work in a contemporary German performance, we managed to surpass the inevitable language barrier and harmonize with the elegant crowd in the theater.

The play we went to see on Thursday evening was As You like It, a Shakespearean pastoral comedy written in 1600, which throughout time has garnered either praise or harshly negative commentary from various generations of literary critics. Some consider it either too compliant with Jacobean London public’s taste, while others discover an abundance of symbols and avant-la-lettre insights into issues of identity. The play presents various transgressions at work as social hierarchies, gender differences and incompatibilities in human nature are explored.

The starting point, where the main conflicts are knitted together, is the court of Duke Frederick. The action then moves to the Forest of Arden, where the heroine Rosalind and her cousin Celia are exiled. This space prompts meditation on the human/nature relationship, as the forest becomes populated by members of the court who come into contact with the shepherds and savages already there. One of the motifs ingeniously exploited in the staging was how easy and yet how confusing it becomes to pretend to be the other gender. While living in the woods, Rosalind takes on the guise of a young boy and from within this new identity encounters and befriends Orlando, the man who has vowed his love to her. A series of complications follow, but each finds its happy denouement three hours later.

The play was directed by esteemed German actress Katharina Talbach, who also takes on two roles, one of which is the mischievous, hilarious court jester. What makes her theatrical vision interesting is the intention to reverse the original Shakespearian staging situation by using only actresses and assigning a double role to some. Talbach’s career has often gravitated towards Shakespeare, starting with her directorial debut of Macbeth in 1987, and continuing with the direction of Romeo and Juliet for theater and opera, and an earlier theatrical production of As You like It at the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin.

Doina Proorocu (AY, Romania) offered sincere testimony on the success of the class project, by recalling one of the slapstick comedy moments in the play, when all court ladies in great pomp burst into a pop song: “I think that a classical English play set up in German for contemporary audience by a womanly crew shows us very accurately how linguistic, historical and even sexual boundaries can be dissolved. For Shakespeare is as much fun auf Deutsch, with Rosalind and Celia singing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and a feminine Orlando as it is on a classical Victorian set. It is a good example of how cultures, historical ages and languages can intermingle.” Her classmate, Elena Volkanovska (AY , Macedonia) appreciated the aesthetics of the stage and the costumes, as well as the pace of the performance which made the play “simply flow”, while complemented by a “witty and amusing” choice of music.

By Brindusa Birhala (2009, Romania)

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