THE HORSES ARE READY
04/06/2014 - 07/06/2014
They’ve been waiting… and so have you
What happens when you want to leave but you can’t?
Third year Theatre students at Victoria University of Wellington present two completely different and unique shows using the same script! What happens when Franz become Franziska?
For the past twelve weeks students have undergone vigorous rehearsals in preparation for two productions of the same play, The Horses are Ready, by Swiss playwright Guy Krneta. The students have undertaken Viewpoints training and historical research in preparation for the productions.
The script has been translated by Victoria University Senior Lecturer, Bronwyn Tweddle from Krneta’s original German. The text remains the same across each version while each production is unique being set in two fascinating times in recent German history: 1945, at the end of the Second World War and the mid-1980s in East Germany. Each based less than a hundred years ago, how much has the world changed? How different are their worlds?
Wednesday and Friday nights: Nazi Germany, Berlin, the end of the war, stuck in a bunker, the Russians are getting close. Do they get out now or stay to face the consequences?
Thursday and Saturday nights: East Germany, a mixed bag of people in an abandoned holiday camp wanting to commit the ‘crime’ of fleeing to the west. Are they ready to face the severe penalties of their actions?
“After this experience I have a new perspective on both regimes, how difficult it must have been to live in those times. Especially in the DDR, not a lot of people know about the mass surveillance that occurred and the great manipulation and intimidation of the people by the Stasi. You couldn’t trust anyone because they might be informing. It wasn’t that long ago.” – Jane Paul
Come along to both productions for a unique experience of comparing the same script in two forms, a contemporary play with a dark comedic edge.
The horses are ready… Are you?
Studio 77, Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn
Nazi Germany 1945: 4 & 6 June, 7.30pm
East Germany 1980s: 5 & 7 June, 7.30pm
Book at email@example.com
Different settings brilliantly executed
Review by Charlotte Simmonds 06th Jun 2014
Guy Krneta belongs to the generation of Swiss writers I have heard referred to as “Frisch’s grandchildren”. It’s a script that reeks of absurdism (my former German lecturer would be most unhappy to have me put the Swiss playwrights of the 50s and 60s in the same basket as the French, but there it is), with elements borrowed from Beckett and Sartre.
Six characters are trapped in a space, talking endlessly about leaving and endlessly taking their leave of each other, but the audience begins to wonder if it is even possible for them to leave, and of course, they argue and fight because “hell is other people”.
But it’s not just that. Like Frisch’s writing, this can also be political. I am even tempted to read it as a question posed to Rilke’s poem ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’ saying, “Can art change your life? Can theatre? Does it have to? Is it able to? Can art tell me to change my life? Can it tell me what to do? And is it enough to change myself or must I change the entire world from the bottom up?”
Fortunately for theatre students, the script is very open and very blank. The only stage direction is that the play can be set anywhere. In this way, the playwright leaves it open to the practitioners to superimpose meaning on a reasonably void text. Some might consider that lazy scriptwriting. Others might consider it a director’s dream come true.
Highlighting how open to interpretation the script is, THEA 302 stages two completely different productions of the same script, with entirely different casts, set in entirely different time periods. On the 4th June, I see The Horses Are Ready set in something like the Führer’s bunker. On the 5th June, I see it set in East Germany during the Cold War.
On the first night we have the ‘baddies’ wondering whether they should not, in fact, change their lives, get out of Germany and start anew (in Brazil?). A script that could just as easily be a relationship drama, about lovers or family members or a flat breakup, now becomes Nazi leaders discussing how to divide up Jewish loot and who will take the rap for their crimes.
On the second night we have the ‘goodies’ wanting to leave a Stalinist police state for the brighter life of capitalism in West Germany, and here the pervasive notion that all the characters are delusional in believing that they even can leave becomes not just a metatheatrical trope about being stuck inside a script, but is a real situation that has happened in many such states in the past and continues in North Korea today.
The students have chosen real contemporary and historical people on which to base and develop their characters, ranging from Eva Braun in the Third Reich to David Bowie in the GDR. It all gets extremely bizarre when we end up with a female actor playing a male character based on a female historical figure, which occurs in both productions, and gives me a lot of cause to wonder how much ‘body language’ is gender-specific, who teaches it to us and where we get it from. How does a female learn to ‘speak’ in the body language of a male? How does a male ‘speak’ in the body language of a female without it instantly turning into a drag routine? In these productions, none of the female actors manage it. Male actors all play male characters based on male historical figures and the problem is not raised for them.
I feel loath to reduce such time periods to something as basic as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but I think for many of the students participating in these productions, that may not be a terrible idea. I am slightly disturbed by the some of the notes the Nazi Germany cast have written about their characters. I understand that it may be hard to connect to a ‘bad’ guy or that you want to like the glamorous woman you’re playing, but I think it is important to be reminded that yes, you can try to understand these people, but no, you should not sympathise with them.
Would you have done the same? Yes, you probably would have, which is precisely why they do not need the sympathy. I know it’s history and I know you’re sick of hearing about it, but holocausts will happen again and again. I know it’s hard to find a female character from the Third Reich that you like and that only one of you can be Sophie Scholl, but do you really want to tell me, “Yes, Hitler was a mean man responsible for the deaths of millions but don’t forget that he was also a vegetarian and look how kind he was to his dog?” No.
So don’t spin me this nonsense about how badly women were treated as sexual objects under the Third Reich either. It’s no different to how women are treated today. Don’t forget that when Traudl Junge saw the memorial to Sophie Scholl and realised they had been the same age, even she said that she had had no excuse. And when you say, “Yes, Lída Baarová was Goebbels’ girlfriend but why can’t she be remembered for how beautiful she was instead?”, aren’t you mistreating Baarová in exactly the same way as the men of the 30s and 40s did, instead of holding her accountable for her actions or lack of such, as a human being with a perfectly functional and equal brain? Understand. Don’t sympathise.
Bronwyn Tweddle has produced a good translation and the different settings of the two shows have been brilliantly executed and work a lot better than I would have predicted. It might have been interesting to see two different translations performed (would that have defeated the purpose?) and I would have liked a more ambiguous ending for the East Germans, but the entire concept was outstanding, and in the end, it’s a production for theatre students, not a study in literary translation. It’s certainly worth seeing both versions.
Interestingly, a much earlier version of the German play was titled something like The Leave-Takers or People Saying Goodbye. I think I would have preferred the playwright to keep his first title.
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