Expressionism in Theatre, #RichardArmitage?

 

expressionisttheatre

“I am hopefully going to go back on stage, probably directed by Yaël Farber again, sometime in 2016 or 2017. We’re developing an idea together and it will be a much more expressionistic, physical approach to theatre, which is the sort of theatre I’m really interested in. I can’t say what it will be but we have a play in mind, quite an ancient play.” – Richard Armitage with yet more clues about the future stage collaboration with (“probably”… what does “probably” mean?) Yaël Farber (source).

Richard has dropped another couple of hints in the excerpt above, namely that the next stage production he’ll be involved in will be an ancient play, and that they intend to adopt an “expressionistic” approach. This was in addition to his comments in another recent interview that hinted they plan to “push the physicality” of the theatre genre. I must admit, I’m incredibly intrigued by these statements.

expressionistpaintingsSo what, I asked myself, would expressionism in theatre look like? In terms of artwork, I’ve always thought of expressionists as artists whose work distorts the image in ways that enhance the viewer’s gut response, usually by dramatic color choices, exaggerated brush strokes, and often jarring or angsty subject matter. Translating that sort of thing to theatre, though… I was having a hard time imagining it. And maybe I still am.

So I googled “expressionism in theatre” and found out that there is/was indeed a movement that began in Germany that brought elements of expressionism to theatre. I came to this blog, which gave some descriptions of the movement in terms of its characteristics and techniques.

A few highlights, taken directly from that page:

Its atmosphere was often vividly dreamlike and nightmarish. The mood was aided by shadowy, unrealistic lighting and visual distortions in the set.

Settings avoided reproducing the detail of naturalistic drama, and created only those starkly simplified images the theme of the play called for (sounds familiar- thinking of Soutra Gilmore’s stark and simplistic set designs for The Crucible at The Old Vic, right?)

Characters lost their individuality and were merely identified by nameless designations, like The Man, The Father, The Son

Crowds are also impersonalized, and move with mass rhythmic movements, often mechanically

The style of acting known as the ‘ecstatic’ style, it was intense and violent, and expressed tormented emotions. Actors might erupt in sudden passion and attack each other physically

All this, and knowing what a genius Yaël Farber is at “re-imagining” a classic such as The Crucible and presenting the play in a way that stays true to the script yet feels so much more visceral, so much more evocative, has made me all the more eager for whatever it is Richard Armitage has in store for us in 2016 or 2017. The juxtaposition implied by staging an “ancient” play in a modern “expressionistic” style… it’s a fascinating idea. Add in Richard Armitage in “enhanced physicality mode” and, well….

I don’t care where, or when… I’ll be there.

 

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28 comments

  1. lily218 · April 29, 2015

    Thank you for this great info on Expressionism in theatre, I wondered what he meant by it too! expressionism is also an art movement, led by artists like Egon Schiele – you should look up his work if not already familiar; it’s very visceral and stylised, and raw, just as you described.
    When reading those qualities of expressionist theatre, I was immediately reminded of Greek Tragedies, which work on some similar principals; minimal sets, faceless or stripped down characters like the chorus or the muses, and very visceral storyline and subject matter. When I thought then of his mention of “ancient play, I remembered him mentioning Oedipus in the Twitter q&a last year and I was so excited! You don’t get more visceral raw and (in some parts) violent than that! I can totally see the play being interpreted in this way, with “the Mother and “the Son” and so on, very paired down and raw.
    Sorry, this has turned into a bit of an essay, but you’re post has really got me thinking, so thank you! 🙂

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    • jholland · April 29, 2015

      Welcome, lily218! I did look up Egon Schiele as you suggested and loved what I saw. Some rather erotic images there (no complaints!) but these were some of my favorites… thanks for the direction!
      null
      I also think that of the 3 plays he mentioned, Oedipus seems to fit the bill for an “ancient” play, but I know there could be others they’ve cooked up since that time. I’ve never actually read or watched a Greek Tragedy, so I didn’t know that they had the faceless/stripped down characters… it does all seem to tie in nicely with our theories!

      Liked by 1 person

      • lily218 · April 29, 2015

        Hi! I’m so glad you liked them, he is one of my favourite painters. Yes they are pretty erotic aren’t they, and sensual… I have to say I thought mainly of his self portraits, which I think are eerily beautiful, and make me think of Richard’s rawness on stage a little too… I wasn’t sure how to insert images but here’s a link to one 🙂 http://zombieresearchsociety.com/archives/1360
        I’m half-Greek so I’m familiar with some of the greek myths and legends, and Oedipus is pretty special to me as it’s a story my greek grandmother used to love to tell me before bed when I used to stay over 😛 ! The muses and the chorus are like the moral compass for the plays, they often are the voice for the characters internal thoughts or sometimes even questions the audience may be asking themselves, in their heads… I actually haven’t seen that many Greek tragedies either, so I’m very excited to see whats to come! 🙂

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  2. Sue · April 29, 2015

    Well there’s Antigone…Richard could play Creon, ” …..tragic hero, losing everything for upholding what he believed was right”. Sounds about right!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jholland · April 29, 2015

      I’ll take your word for it, Sue! I know nothing of the Greek tragedies. However I’m always learning all kinds of neat things when I start Richarding…. =)

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      • Hariclea · May 2, 2015

        well, having just seen Antigone a few weeks ago i’d rather he not play Creon LOL Well, at least in the Ivo van Hove version (the director who won this year at the Olviers with VftBridge) he was i thought a quite striking portrait of a tyrant who pursues his goals to the bitter end and only realises too late that in the process he has destroyed all the people around him. Not my favourite of the Greek tragedies i have to say. There’s been a flurry of them in London recently and i’ve seen 3 in less than 12 months. Antigone, Electra and Medea. In all of them it is the female character who is actually at the center of them all and of the 3 i liked Medea most. Strangely because i would have thought modern setting would work well for the Greek tragedies but this was exceptionally done in my opinion and worked very well. Especially the chorus was wonderfully handled, with a lot of movement and dancing, which did remind me in some instances of the strong movement in the Crucible. I can see how especially in the chorus and people scenes an expressionistic approach could work very well in these plays. I’d be interested to see them like that.
        Otherwise i actually shy away from over the top things in theatre, one of the reasons i’ve gone back to it and am enjoying it at the moment is because in London theatre tend to be natural and life like and very much focused on story telling. I’m not a big fan of shouty, violent approaches to theatre, which usually alienate me. But i loved Yael’s approach for the Crucible and i thought the physical intensity fit the play very well. So i’ll trust her with a Greek tragedy i think 😉 I just don’t think it is something that works in general, not for me in any case. But i think it may fit extreme stories or circumstances. It will be interesting to see what they choose, i guess Oedipus is the one that comes to all our minds. It will certainly be a challenge, i think there is little middle way with these plays; it is so hard to make their beliefs about destiny and such real to modern day people… I found both the Antigone and the Electra , in spite of Scott Thomas in the latter, interesting to watch but not really believable. But i found Medea utterly riveting and convincing, McCrory was incredible in it.
        I just hope i will be able to see it live, whatever it will be…. sigh

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        • jholland · May 2, 2015

          I hope so, too. Would you be willing to travel?

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        • Hariclea · May 3, 2015

          desperately willing 😉 but it will take very complicated financial planning, so fingers crossed. I also hope we’ll find out early enough..

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        • jholland · May 4, 2015

          Oh, for sure. I was glad The Crucible had such a long run, as I didn’t even have a current Passport at the time I found out about it.

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        • jholland · May 4, 2015

          I see what you mean about making such a play feel real or relevant. Perhaps that would be the basis for why they might take an expressionistic approach- going for the gut feeling rather than attempting to make it mirror reality.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hariclea · May 5, 2015

          makes sense actually 🙂 it is probably the right way to make these plays work, but really anything with him on stage will do me 😉

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        • jholland · May 5, 2015

          Sigh. Yes. I can’t think up any kind of play that I would refuse to see him in. =)

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hariclea · May 5, 2015

          refuse him something?? how does one do that? 😀

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  3. sparkhouse1 · April 29, 2015

    Me too! See you there!

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    • jholland · April 30, 2015

      Bearing badges! Mine’s “deRAnged” =)

      Like

  4. linnetmoss · April 30, 2015

    I love the dark shadows in this photo of him. Very expressionistic!

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  5. Servetus · May 2, 2015

    Maybe I’m cynical, and I’d be happy to be wrong, maybe I have spent too much time with students, but I read this, paired with “physical,” and thought, oh, he said “expressionistic” when he meant “expressive.” (shrugs).

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    • jholland · May 2, 2015

      Good point! I can just see myself there, seated in the front row, ready with my list of expressionist theatre attributes, and wondering how the hell this qualified. LOL. I suppose we’ll see. Though I really don’t think it would be a stretch for Yael Farber to reimagine an ancient classic in such a framework.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Servetus · May 2, 2015

        I don’t think it would be beyond her but the set style of the two sets I’ve seen (Crucible and the trailer for Nirbhaya) doesn’t really suggest that in my opinion. With her whole idea that the set has to be free enough that “anything can happen and something must” the expressionism would have to come without the visual aspects of a traditional set. Not impossible but definitely a challenge.

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  6. Servetus · May 2, 2015

    That said, I’d love to see him in a remake of Caligari, and we know he’s familiar with Metropolis, so there’s that.

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    • jholland · May 2, 2015

      I won’t pretend that I know anything whatsoever about that. I’ll take your word for it that it’s desirable. =)

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      • Servetus · May 2, 2015

        Here’s a nice article if you’re interested — they are the two hallmark German expressionist films. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-house-an-introduction-to-german-expressionist-films-32845 Caligari made a huge impression on me as a grad student, it is the only quasi-“horror” film I’ve ever liked (I’d say it’s more uncanny than horror, though). I am not such a huge fan of Metropolis, but Armitage mentioned it twice in interviews in, I believe, 2013, as something he’d like to see remade.

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        • jholland · May 2, 2015

          Interesting. I see I unknowingly put an image related to Caligari into my collage above. =) Well, if Armitage mentioned Metropolis and Metropolis is considered a hallmark expressionist film, dare we hope he didn’t mix up his “expressions” after all? =)

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        • Servetus · May 2, 2015

          yes, it’s a possibility. I think I thought that because he paired “expressionistic” with “physical” and I don’t think of physicality as a necessary component of expressionism. I wondered if, in that year that he was living in Manhattan and not working all that much, he visited any courses at the NYU film school, which is not that far from his abode, I guess.

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        • jholland · May 4, 2015

          Well, RE: physicality… in my reading (and it’s only reading as I haven’t actually watched any expressionist theatre), a spastic quality of the movements was mentioned, along with violence.

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  7. perry3220 · May 2, 2015

    You may remember when a fan bumped into him on a rainy day ( he was sighted wearing a “blue beanie”) in the NYU/ New School area, whether he was coming from some acting class at NYU. I know he could have been going/coming from anyplace, but NYU was exactly what I was thinking at the time.

    Like

    • jholland · May 4, 2015

      That thought popped into my head, too. Pretty sure the fan mentioned they were on or near a campus.

      Like

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