Expressionism in Theatre, #RichardArmitage?



“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.