Avant Garde Theatre, 1892-1992

By Christopher Innes | Go to book overview

4

THERAPY AND SUBLIMINAL THEATRE

GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM

As might be expected, staging is a major problem in Strindberg’s dream plays. They demanded technical resources that did not exist at the beginning of the century; and even Strindberg’s own Intimate Theatre never produced A Dream Play, although the original intention in founding it was to provide suitable performance conditions for precisely this, following what Strindberg felt was the failure of the play’s first production six months earlier (April 1907). ‘The whole performance became “a phenomenon of materialization” instead of the intended dematerialization’ 1 —a problem that equally affected Reinhardt’s 1921 production, which presented a tableau of suffering human faces by rows of real actors, clothed in black and with whitened, staring features.

Strindberg himself moved away from any attempt to realize his vision in physical terms. His proposals to August Falck, the director of the Intimate Theatre, reveal symbolist influence—neutral drapes taking on different nuances of colour from the lighting to reflect changing moods, with simple ‘allegorical’ objects to evoke imaginative echoes for the location of each scene: sea shells for Fingal’s Cave, signal flags for Foulstrand, a number-board for songs representing the church—and his thoughts on his ‘chamber plays’ show him working towards a theatre of the mind, independent of the stage or physical representation:

If Shakespeare’s highly sophisticated contemporaries could do without scenery, we too should be able to imagine walls and trees… everything is make-believe on the stage.

The poet’s vision is profaned through the written word; the written drama is profane in a definite way when it is materialized through performance. 2

It is this concept of a theatre of the mind, in which the stage ceases to be a physical representation of the world and becomes a projection of myth or the author’s inner self, that struck the German expressionists with such

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