"Like Anatol Stiller, I have escaped from my normal life"

"Stiller" backstage © Thomas Dashuber
"Stiller" backstage © Thomas Dashuber

Like Anatol Stiller, I have escaped from my normal life. Happily, this is in order to get to know a different theatre culture, rather than because of crippling existential angst. I am a theatre director working in London, and last year I was one of a small group of directors who came from the Young Vic theatre to spend a week at the Residenztheater. I was excited by how the work differed from lots of theatre in London - there seemed to be more formal experimentation and certainly less emphasis on naturalistic modes of theatre. I asked the Residenz if I could come back, and I was invited to observe the rehearsals for Stiller, directed by Tina Lanik and Mervyn Millar. 

Jeff James, Regisseur aus London © Sheila Burnett Jeff James, Regisseur aus London © Sheila Burnett I have been now been in Munich for two months, and it has been fascinating to see the different ways theatre operates here. In London, theatres have neither ensembles nor repertoires - actors will be hired for one production which will play every night for about six weeks and then close. I really enjoy seeing the same actors in different productions here: I think the ensemble system allows the theatre to be more avant garde, as the audience gets to know the actors so feel less scared of work that seems unfamiliar.  

In Stiller, the main character is trying to escape his real past by inventing a fake one. Both pasts are expressed by puppets manipulated by the actors, and it has been very interesting seeing the actors get to grips with this new way of working. I have also had a go at puppeteering when actors have been absent in other rehearsals: I realised that holding these puppets is very tiring work, even though the audience can't see this! 

One of the best things about my trip has been seeing so many plays. I think I have seen about 60 plays since I arrived - this is quite a strange experience given my German is so bad that I find it hard to follow the text. However, for a director it is good to focus on the way the actors move, what choices they are making, and how the stage design works. I think my time in Munich has changed how I think about theatrical form and this will influence the work I make when I return to London. Before then, I'm looking forward to the premiere of Stiller, when all the work of the last two months comes together.