Studio 77, Victoria University, 77 Fairlie Tce, Kelburn, Wellington

28/05/2013 - 01/06/2013

Production Details

Theatre Students Investigate Murder Case Through Verbatim Theatre

The Theatre Programme at Victoria University presents the English-language premiere of a contemporary German play based on a true murder case. For the past ten weeks the students of the THEA 302 ‘Conventions of Drama and Theatre’ course and the THEA 308 ‘Scenography: The Scenographic Imagination’ course have been rehearsing, designing and discovering the disturbing content of The Kick, translated and directed by German theatre expert Bronwyn Tweddle.

The real-life events took place in Potzlow, a small village near Berlin, where residents suffer from widespread unemployment, alcoholism, broken family relationships and a disintegrating society in the wake of German reunification. The shadow of the former East German regime silences any who wish to speak out, causing violence and mistreatment to go unreported.

Playwrights Andres Veiel and Gesine Schmidt spent several months researching and interviewing in Potzlow. Every word in the play is direct testimony from the perpetrators, witnesses and media, creating an authority and authenticity in the work similar to news broadcasts. Through performance Victoria theatre students are themselves exploring the causes of extreme violence and the silence surrounding it, through the verbatim theatre form. 

“It is a real story,” says student Amber Chard, “sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that these events actually took place. As actors this is a challenge for us as we have been given the task of representing this story truthfully and with respect.” 

Under the mentorship of theatre designer and lecturer James Davenport, the Scenography students creating all the production design are on a similar quest for truth. “Figuring out how to represent Potzlow on stage has made me realise how difficult it is to understand and comprehend the horrific events that took place in this idyllic setting” says set designer Emma Robinson. 

The Kick is an honest and heart-wrenching story, which presents the raw facts about violence in which a whole community is complicit. Join us at Studio 77 to discover what happens when nobody speaks out. 

What: The Kick by Andres Veiel and Gesine Schmidt.
Translated and directed by Bronwyn Tweddle.
Performed by THEA 302 Conventions students.
Designed by THEA 308 Scenography students under the mentorship of James Davenport.

When: Tuesday 28 May – Saturday 1 June, 7.30pm
Where: Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn
Tickets: $15 full / $8 concession. Pay by cash only on the door.

Stand-out ensemble work

Review by Charlotte Simmonds 30th May 2013

In 2002 in Potzlow, a German village with not quite 600 inhabitants, the sixteen year old Marinus Schöberl was murdered by three other youths with whom he had spent the evening drinking. Prior to being killed, he had been subjected to beatings and humiliation to which at least three adults had been witness across the course of the night. Although there were several people in the village who knew what had happened to Schöberl, his body was not found and no official investigation was begun until several months had passed. 

In 2005 the documentarist Andres Veiel, in collaboration with the dramaturg Gesine Schmidt, produced a play developed from the 1500 pages of transcripts from interviews conducted with the perpetrators, their families and other villagers across a seven month period. The script is composed of segments of the interviews, verbatim, spliced together in a more narrative fashion.

In 2006, following the initial production of the play, Veiel felt that much of what he had experienced from the interview subjects during the recording process was lost in the theatrical situation of having thirty metres distance between listener and speaker. Deciding that it hadn’t really worked as a play, he then reproduced his text as a film, film being his home turf medium.

In 2013, Bronwyn Tweddle translated Veiel and Schmidt’s text into English and directed a cast of eighteen 300-level university students and a production team of a further eighteen or so students, into the first ever English language version of this show. 

Veiel and Schmidt’s initial concept is similar to The Laramie Project, a year 2000 American play, but of course there are differences. The village of Potzlow is 1/45th the size of the town of Laramie. The crime itself is vastly different. There has been no enormous controversy or uproar surrounding this play. The text is produced by a documentarist and a dramaturg, not by a theatre company, and involves none of their personal reactions to the event, none of their words, none of their voice.

Veiel was asked on multiple occasions why he hadn’t just made a documentary to start with. He responded that he felt the event and those involved needed distance from the audience, and that he didn’t want have a stammering skinhead on the screen that no one would listen to.

The idea of voices being filtered through the voices of others for greater ‘audibility’ is not unusual. Throughout history, we have been accustomed to hearing women’s stories told through the voices of men, black stories told through the voices of white people, the voice of anyone in a minority position having their history related through whoever has the voice of greater authority. And in Germany, right-wing neo-Nazi oriented youths are certainly a minority group to whom no one is willing to listen. 

Of course the current production is a translation, so it is no longer a verbatim text which creates an added layer of distance. The existence of a third voice, a third filtering layer, the voice of the translator, is also unavoidable. Words like ‘bugger’ are present, which could only have occurred in a New Zealand translation and would not be present in an American one. Additional filtering occurs in some of the directing choices. Tweddle has opted, wisely, I think, for gender- and ethnicity-blind casting, pointing out that her cast of young students, many of whom have never acted in a full length play before, is nothing like the demographic makeup of Potzlow anyway. 

The lighting, design and sound effects of the show are rather beautiful from a craft perspective and very apt. The set is stark, cold, industrial, unemotional and efficient, evoking many of the stereotypes we associate with East Germany, as well as prisons, the abandoned high density pig farming complex in which the murder occurs, and imagery used in Veiel and Schmidt’s original productions.

With a cast this large, the goal, as a friend of mine often says, “is not to produce stand-out, star performers but stand-out, solid ensemble work,” or as the old improv mantra goes, “My goal is to make everyone else look good and feel safe.” This cast has come together and been brought together brilliantly as an ensemble, and as an ensemble, their work is stand-out and solid, both impressive for a group who are new to acting, and a credit to each other and their director. 

Contradictory to the our firmly entrenched beliefs that murderers are other people from bad homes, bad families and abusive childhoods, and murder victims are good people who have done nothing wrong, in fact, the older boys came from fairly average homes and Schöberl, the village car and moped thief, was neither someone regularly picked on at school, nor weedy and incapable of defending himself, nor any of the usual things one associates with victims. 

Veiel says in an interview about his script that it was never his intention to understand the events, simply to comprehend them and that understanding and comprehension are two very different things. This may be a slightly petty semantic quibble that doesn’t translate well into English, but it is perhaps interesting to think about why we, in New Zealand, should be asked to comprehend a small-town nonsense crime (it really was not a hate crime) that took place in Germany.

I don’t know what the moral of this story is, if there is one. Perhaps it is the same message of Lord of the Flies and other stories of this ilk – that as broken human beings, we all have the capacity for murder or rape if given the right scenario, and that in other scenarios, scenarios in which we are not the perpetrators of violence but the victims, we all have the capacity to cling tenaciously to hatred and bitterness to the end.


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