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Happy Birthday, Schaubühne!

On the 21st of September, 1962, the Schaubühne put on its very first production; the first of many. The private theatre, which was set up by a group of young theatre enthusiasts, has been going strong for 50 years now. Originally housed in Kreuzberg, the theatre has been at its current location on Kurfürstendamm since 1981 – as luck would have it, just a stone’s throw away from the Concorde. So this week, in honour of our neighbour’s milestone birthday, I decided to pay them a visit and check out their take on Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen.

Waiting for the play to begin at the Schaubühne Berlin

We arrive at number 153, a beautiful building designed by Erich Mendelsohn, one of the most influential German architects of the 20th century. There are groups of people standing on the pavement outside. I queue up to collect the tickets whilst my friend David busies himself at the postcard stand. You may have seen their elegant slogans and graphics around Berlin. He hands me one in black and white which reads: “You must have the right bullets.” It is advertising an upcoming production – The Black Rider – which will premiere in November. I decide to add it to the collection on my wall. Tickets in hand, we head into the cosy Schaubühne Café for a glass of wine and await the start. The buzzer sounds and we file in slowly; it’s a full house tonight.

The Schaubühne Berlin

I have never been disappointed by a production at the Schaubühne, but I think this one was one of my favourites so far; it was absolutely fantastic, if a little disturbing. The cast, which included Lars Eidinger (sign), did the dark comedy justice and I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. The stage was also used to great effect. The impressive technical capabilities, such as rain pouring down the patio doors, images projected onto the wall and the rotating stage, are not just used willy-nilly at the Schaubühne, they are integral to the production. At the end for example, when Hedda has just shot herself in the head and the other remaining characters, hearing the shot, continue chatting jovially in the other room, the stage begins to rotate slowly to the sound of ‘God only knows’ by the Beach Boys. I still haven’t got this image out of my head, and have been driving my friends insane by singing “God only knows what I’d be without you” ever since.

Hedda Gabler at the Schaubühne ©Arno Declair

Hedda Gabler at the Schaubühne ©Arno Declair

On the way out, we stop to look in the shop and I buy David a poster reading “That’s the way the potato mashes” – another advert for an upcoming production. He promises to hang it on his kitchen door. I flick through a heavy book commemorating 50 years of the Schaubühne and remember that director, Jürgen Schitthelm, who was one of the founding members back in 1962, will take leave of active involvement  this year. The commitment and enthusiasm of those involved in the theatre are what makes the Schaubühne such a success – something which will surely continue as Schitthelm puts his life’s work into the hands of artistic director Thomas Ostermeier, director Friedrich Barner and deputy director Tobias Veit.

Hedda Gabler at the Schaubühne ©Arno Declair

Hedda Gabler at the Schaubühne ©Arno Declair

We’ve had a lovely night and can’t stop talking about the play on the U-Bahn home. We both resolve to visit the theatre more often: “When done well,” David muses, “theatre is the best form of entertainment .”

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