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Reflections on writing ENSEMBLE

P1050203On Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week, my new play, called Ensemble, is on a mini-tour of rehearsed readings at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Webster’s Theatre in Glasgow and the Byre in St Andrews. Each place has special resonances for anyone working in Scottish Theatre. The Trav because…well…it’s the TRAV…it’s still the hub of new writing in Scottish Theatre, it is redolent of personal and collective history, and is and has been central to whatever social and political impact theatre writing has had in Scotland in my lifetime. Webster’s?…well it’s brand new…still a bit spit and the reclaimed Lansdowne Church on Great Western Road by Kelvinbridge. It’s being restored with reclaimed wood…an especially lovely old/new bar, for example…and speaks of continuing enthusiasm for the making of stuff live in front of other people that gave us, in 1963, the original Traverse. As for the Byre, recently entirely taken in and re-opened by the University of St Andrews, it represented a wave of civic optimism when its new home was opened in 2001 (the original company being rooted in the wave of local amateur dramatic activism that accompanied the Scottish Renaissance of the 20s and gave us the beginnings of new writing in theatre for a social purpose that has animated us since) and a shock when it was closed down more recently. This is the first time I’ll’ve been back there since the re-opening. I can’t wait.

As for the play itself, I’ve never quite had a “development experience” quite like this one. For a start, its authorship is shared in an interesting and provocative way that I’m only beginning to understand. Of course the actual words spoken by the actual characters are “mine”, I suppose…in quite a conventional way… (the play’s action is continuous and observes the Aristotelian Unities of time place and action to a quite shockingly conservative degree for a play about German theatre! Maybe its “Britishness ” will charm a German audience …if we get that far…) Anyway, what I mean by that can be illustrated by the fact that when we presented the “first draft” of the play at Òran Mór in April…it was a wholly different piece. And that isn’t a rhetorical piece of false modesty. It isn’t just tweaked. It isn’t remotely the same.

ENSEMBLE TRAVERSE POSTER PROOFThis is because the first part of this particular “job” involved my direct response to, first, the original research of Laura Bradley into the history and nuances of East German theatre making and its relationships with both the sponsoring State and the attending audiences …and secondly, the MEMORIES of that “story” as expounded in a set of interviews given by key theatre practitioners…Manfred Karge, Maik Hamburger and Klaus Dieter Kirst among others…to Laura Bradley and the film maker Susan Kemp last December.

Thing is, I was supposed to have been there too…but a sudden illness meant I couldn’t not only were the interviewees spared my butting in and interrupting the flow of their story telling…but rather than the first-hand experience of the people that we’d been hoping for, I was furnished (at a considerable cost and effort from the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures of the University of Edinburgh for which I am very grateful) with transcripts of those interviews…along with the records of visits to the Stasi archive in Berlin and the Stasi prison memorial site just outside the city.

Now, on a human level, I’m always going to regret missing out on the trip and the contacts (though I’ve met Manfred Karge since and very nice he was too) – I’ve still never actually BEEN to Berlin, which I hope to correct very soon – but artistically it also put me in a rather different place where, in retrospect, I had to humanise the research by an alternative route.

I fairly quickly decided on what is called a “verbatim” approach…cutting together from the transcripts and from other documents to present my take on THEIR it were…and through working on those words with actors and a workshop discussion with an audience I would…well..see what that did, as my granny used to say.

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When Peter met Manfred… Edinburgh, August 2015. Photo: LB.

What it did, ultimately, was to lead me HERE. And here is a kind of inversion of the verbatim procedure. Instead of finding character in documents, I have taken those characters…NOT the “real” people…but the fictional, story-telling responses of the gifted team of actors who did the first reading in April, and fleshed out those characters with personal as well as political history…with each other…in a wholly fictional way…

The result is Ensemble…a fictional play reinforced with serious and proper research of a kind that I could never have undertaken on my own – and with a breadth of humanity, I hope, that I don’t think I could have arrived at on my own.

What I’m hoping, in this reading, is that an audience will encounter a group of people who are only incidentally an East German theatre ensemble in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall…but whose conflicts and desires and fears and memories are played out through the accidental specifics of history…like everyone else’s.

To book free tickets:

Edinburgh, Thurs 24 Sept, 7.30 pm, The Traverse:

Glasgow, Fri 25 Sept, 7.30 pm, Websters:

St Andrews, Sat 26 Sept, 3.30 pm, The Byre:

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Script development workshop before our reading at the Fringe in August 2015. From left: Paul Cunningham, Gaylie Runciman, Benny Young, Peter Arnott, Mark McDonnell, Rebecca Elise, George Docherty. Photo: LB.


One Thing at a Time

P1050203I have a limitation as a writer which I suspect is already obvious to anyone who knows my work at all: I can only think about one thing at a time. I am partly ashamed of this. No one likes to consider the boundaries of their capacities. Partly, I rationalize the situation. Experience has taught me, after all, that an actor can only play one action at a time. You can describe a character in a novel acting from multiple, contradictory emotions and intentions… but don’t try asking an actor to show you that complexity … at least, not all at once. The actor can only pick up THIS letter knife from THIS desk to attempt to murder Uncle Morty right NOW. In the next scene he can regretfully kiss the corpse and in the next he can mourn the loss of a man he treasures while contemplating the value, or lack of value, in whatever he might discuss with his analyst “life” is.

But not all at the same time.

The character’s complexity exists in the mind of the audience once the audience has deduced that character from the successive composite of simple, discrete actions. Once the character has done everything the character is going to do, the story is over and we can say who “Hamlet” or “Faust” are. That’s how acting works, that’s theatre works. And how stories work. One thing at a time.
Action is simple. Richness is composite. Which brings me to “Who’s Watching Who?”

By accident rather than design, what had been one complex project has simplified its way into three projects on the road to becoming a complex of three projects which will somehow merge into one. Possibly. Or not. Ands each one has had to evolve distinctly, one at a time, within its own parameters. Inded, the chief value for me as an artist in this process has been coming to what I hope is a clarity about the possibilities and limitations of each piece of the puzzle.

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Rehearsed reading of the first version of ENSEMBLE at Oran Mor in April 2015. Photo: LB.

To begin with there was Ensemble – a preliminary collection of interviews and archive material within which I thought an audience could find a shape for sympathetically understanding the strange yet familiar experience of theatre making in a society built on self-deception and surveillance … of compartments and compromises. I thought a verbatim text would allow of the anthropological exactitude and contradiction that convinces. The purpose of the piece can be summed up in the idea of “witness” and it is obvious that the best witnesses are those who were there. My personal subjectivity is then in my arrangement of the material, as a creative curator, as it were. My own pre-occuptions with artistic and political processes are expressed negatively, as it were, by what I leave out as well as what I include and the order in which I arrange it. The interviews and texts cited are here the simple actions … acts of memory, crucially … while the creation of an argument as to the nature and meaning of the experiences recounted from THEN and THERE and mediated into the HERE and NOW by my instincts as well as my analysis. Fiction that is ABOUT something has a terrible temptation to simplify built into it. “Documents” carry a different kind of authority, of authenticity…and the skilful arrangement of these irruptions from reality can make a composite series of simple actions that can give rise to the complexity and difficulty which lets you know that you’re dealing with the stuff of life rather than myth.

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Rehearsal of version 2 of ENSEMBLE: THE REHEARSAL ROOM in Edinburgh, August 2015. From left: Benny Young, Paul Cunningham, Gaylie Runciman, director Emma Callander, Mark McDonnell, Rebecca Elise, George Docherty. Photo: LB.

Emerging from that, deriving from the FEEL of that process came the second text (the one we’re rehearsing in Edinburgh this month) The Rehearsal Room which is a fictional text that consists of wholly imagined characters who have learned thorough life what I have learned from research. I have imagined a gathering of theatre makers at the personal and historical cusp, the moment of transition from the failure of the East German state towards an outcome that we know but that they don’t – the assimilation of the GDR into the “new” united Germany. It is a deliberately philosophical text, referring as it does to Bertolt Brecht’s “Socratic” dialogue on theatre that he wrote in exile and in the prospect of creating a new theatre out of the ruin of the Nazi period The Messingkauf Dialogues. I am not attempting to re-produce a real incident from a real past. Rather, it is an improvisation based on a present tense that is itself a fictional construct – a theatre company at the point of history … when the regime that has both repressed and sustained it has collapsed, and the moment for invention of the new seems to be upon them. In mood it is elegaic and fearful, hopeful and bitter. It is my attempt to touch and share the feelings of my colleagues. It is, really, my offer to them, and my question.

Is this what it was like? Does this speak to you?

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Rehearsed reading at the Edinburgh Fringe, August 2015. Photo: Frauke Matthes.

Like with the verbatim piece, perhaps it is the specificity of the audience that gives the piece its purpose, its “one thing at a time”. The first piece, Ensemble, which I am going to enhance with the further material that it has provoked Laura Bradley into finding for me, is to allow the theatre makers to bear witness for us … to their experience. The second is a response from me to THEM…saying I hope I heard you, and here is what I have to say in return. It is intended as an act of imaginative solidarity in the shared hope of a better theatre in a better world.

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Audience at the rehearsed reading at the Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: Frauke Matthes.

Last, and not yet, I come to The Fire Sermon. This is the name of the fictional play that the characters in the Rehearsal Room have written and are proposing to rehearse. It is a play that doesn’t exist. Yet. But it might. One day, it might. Because in it I think I’ve found the contemporary resonance that feels like the present both here and now … and in the putative past of my imagined “small town in Germany” in 1976.

For reasons of political protest, finding the strength in religious belief, a man sets fire to himself in the car park of a church. Now we live in an era where self-immolation in the name of God, and in resistance to the powers that be … is not unfamiliar. And in the debates that rage about the meaning of this act of provocative suicide in East Germany in 1976, I fund the fuel for a signal of my own.

But even though this play is a product of this project, in order to be as free as it must be to follow its own poesis, to be true only to itself and its audience, it has to abandon the research and the project that made it possible for me to dream it, and to seek a way of turning that dream into the provisional reality of a “show” … with a real compmay, a real ensemble, in a real rehearsal room to be prepared for a real audience in a real place and time. And I can only do one thing at a time. The purpose of Who’s Watching Who has been to find forms within which the research that Laura Bradley has done can be presented. Which leaves me with the irony that what for me is the Product of the Project … The Fire Sermon … necessarily falls outside the project of serving Laura’s research.

In the words of Groucho Marx as oposed to Karl. “You never know where you’re going until you get there.”

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Spectators at the rehearsed reading at the Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: Frauke Matthes.

Peter wrote this blog posting before this week’s script development workshop and the rehearsed reading at the Edinburgh Fringe … but Laura was too busy organising the events to post this until now!


Ensemble : “The Rehearsal”

We’ve taken a slightly different approach with Peter’s latest blog posting, which is his outline for the next stage of the development of ENSEMBLE. Below, you can read Peter’s outline, followed by the email correspondence between Peter and Laura as they discuss it … and as Peter comes up with a new idea.

Peter Arnott

“If we can’t tell each other the truth in here…where else is there? The rehearsal room is where we come to practise being in a safer, better world.”

The play begins as the stage manager puts on the lights (or opens the stage blacks) in the rehearsal studio of a provincial theatre in a small city of the German Democratic Republic on the first working day in January 1990. The room is still decorated for the New Year Party. Tired streamers and empty bottles, full ashtrays and lost shoes… All these are cleared up by the stage manager in the course of the action. The play takes place in “real” time.

It was quite a party. Last year was the year the world changed and there were people who have worked in this room who were instrumental in that change. There were also people here who resisted that change, who supported the crumbling regime. It is a room full of ghosts and we hear some of their voices as the lights come on. And as the stage manager greets the artistic director as he has greeted her every morning for thirty years.

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Clock at the Volksbühne, Berlin. Photo: LB.

As she prepares for her day, and is joined by her veteran dramaturg, it is quickly clear that although they are doing what they’ve always done, although the theatre, the ensemble, has always been its own little world, no one really knows what anything means anymore – it is not only in the outside world where everything has changed. No one knows the rules. No one knows how many of the actors will turn up for work. No one knows whether there will be any audience, no one knows what that audience will want. No one really knows what country that audience live in any more.

This is the time between things, between the Fall of the Wall and Reunification where for everyone nothing is known. For some that is exciting, for others, terrifying. For some hardy or reckless souls, this is a moment of opportunity, of re-invention, of the future suddenly becoming a place of possibility after so many years of stultification. For others, the future is a terrifying vacuum and the present full of fear and loss and guilt.

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What matters in life? Taken from a wall display of comments at the Kleines Haus of the Staatsschauspiel Dresden. Photo: LB.

The questions for the director, the dramaturg, the two actors and the stage manager, the question is what is the theatre for? What do they programme? What do they rehearse? On this first day after the New Year, when they always discuss, as an ensemble, the next season, and what they should do next…the questions seem much bigger and much more difficult, much more fundamental. The temptation is to dodge the problems and rehearse the new verbatim material on the workings of the Stasi that has been proposed as the basis of a verbatim play.

They do start to rehearse that material but are interrupted by the return of a prodigal son, the Star, who left the East in the 70s after a period in prison. He used to work here with the director and the dramaturg. He is a hero to the young activist Actor and to the Stage Manager. But is he here to help? Or is he here to gloat? Is he here for revenge? He and the dramaturg in particular, are old foes. What agenda does he bring from the past? What news does he bring from the West?

He certainly makes their accustomed discussion more urgent. He points out that their ensemble has disintegrated and their funders, the government, are in humiliated disarray. He dismisses the dramaturg’s script as irrelevant…and ghosts of the past, of old wars, old suspicions and accusations rise up to the surface.

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Inside the Volksbühne, Berlin. Photo: LB.

To be interupted by the younger generation who care much more about the future. The answer may be that they close the theatre…that it is so compromised by association with the regime who supported it that it is no longer relevant, that theatre should leave the building and hit the streets. This is the attitude of one of the two actors who have shown up. But not only philosophical questions about theatre practice are at stake. This is not just, as the dramaturg puts it, a re-working of Brecht’s Messingkauf Dialogues. What is at issue is deeply personal. The situation is further heightened by the Actress who confesses that she has been a Stasi informant…that for her, the only way into the theatre was by her atoning for the dissidence of her parents by co-operating with the authorities. She wants and needs them to carry on. The theatre is too important to her to lose. It is too important to be able to tell the truth somewhere in this wicked world. The fact that she has reported on them all, even her activist fiancee, makes the stakes here deeply personal.

And there is still the stage manager to hear from, a man from the working class that the state claimed to represent and that the theatre claimed to serve. What does he want now? What can he expect for himself and his family now that the cold winds of capitalism are blowing?

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Inside the Volksbühne. Photo: LB.

These are the characters for a “real-time” fictional play about theatre and the world, and what are the rights and obligations of making theatre in the the world as the world changes. This is the second theatrical experiment I want to undertake as part of this project of “dramatizing” Laura Bradley’s research and is based on character ideas developed in the first, “verbatim” stage of “Ensemble.”

The intention is that this new play will form the basis for the Festival Fringe Event in August and that an amalgam of this script and the earlier verbatim script will make up the final version to be toured in the autumn.




Email from Laura to Peter, Friday 29 May 2015, 19:16

Hi Peter,

Thanks for this – great to see it taking shape!

The setting and situation sound as if they have lots of potential. I can see the end-of-the-party working really well – it reminds me of a really great production (which I never saw) in Lille of Brecht’s The Mother in 1979. I like the idea of hearing the voices of past theatre practitioners at the start of the play too, and also the way you set up the conflict between the characters – so much potential there!

I have some nice snippets of notes on performances in Dresden in autumn 89 / Jan 1990, showing the sense of disillusionment when suddenly the audiences ebbed away and even keen theatregoers hadn’t the time or money to think about theatre. So I can dig those out for you. A couple of them are on the Twitter feed already.

The part I think we’ll need to think carefully about is the verbatim material, and how this would work. I have two main thoughts about this so far but would really like to have a chat with you about it.

I wonder if you might actually have more creative freedom if you used the verbatim material as inspiration to create fictional verbatim material, so that none of the documents related directly to real-life people, but the theatre practitioners in the play treated them as if they did. The fictional verbatim texts could mimic the register of official documents, the speech patterns, etc, and might even use some unidentifiable, unattributed quotes. That would mean that the treatment of the material couldn’t be read as a judgement on the real people we interviewed, and it would give you the freedom to invent the documents that best suit what you want to do.

The other thing I wondered was whether the characters could work with material relating to theatre censorship, rather than just the Stasi or the Stasi prison – so that it fits the brief of the AHRC commission (which was to focus on theatre censorship). Maybe the theatre practitioners could be digging up material relating to their old theatre manager, who made lots of tricky productions possible and is seen as a bit of a hero, only then to find out that he informed for the Stasi in his youth. Or maybe they look into a censorship scandal that left a deep scar on the theatre – maybe involving some of them too – and are amazed to find out how inaccurate the Stasi reports are, and how divided opinion in the authorities was? Or maybe a playwright has just discovered that the success he’s most proud of was actually engineered by the Stasi to keep him on side. I think this might offer more scope for working with the research that went into the book itself, and bringing out the theme of censorship. And there might be more scope for finding things that surprise people and don’t confirm the view that they have of the GDR as just a Stasi state / a system in which people were either victims or perpetrators. It would also fit nicely with what GDR theatre practitioners were doing around this time – putting on readings of banned/secret texts, and looking into their ensembles’ past.

If we do use actual verbatim material in the final version, then I think I’d want to tread carefully and make sure we’d thought through the implications – so to think about the reactions at Oran Mor and how we’d protect the people we interviewed from a similar response. I’d also need to update the case to the Ethics Committee here, so that we got ethical approval for what you’re planning next, and make sure that we have informed consent from the people we interviewed to use it for that purpose in your next draft.

I think it’s a great idea to use the outline as the basis for the next blog post, if we can clarify how we’re dealing with the verbatim material first. Perhaps we could update that part of it once we’ve had a chance to either chat in person or think it through further by email, so that the blog takes account of the issues we’ve been grappling with?

I’d be happy to chat on the phone on Monday or on Tuesday am – would either of those work for you?

Have a good weekend




Berlin Wall grafitti

‘Never again 13 August 1961! We should have started much EARLIER. 28 years ago.’ Photographer: unknown.


Email from Peter to Laura, Saturday 30 May 2015, 11:52

Hi Laura

I think probably for a final script I wouldn’t use any of the interviewees as verbatim material…I can use, I think, the dramaturg character as being someone who has had access to other more general stuff…so that the verbatim play our characters are considering comes exclusively from archives…but I would make a plea for using the interview stuff from the prison and the archives too…which I think is less problematic because our people were talking as public historians, as it were, rather than as private individuals.

I think the characters can explore the very issues we’re dealing with in terms of ethics…what I like about this fictional set up is that it gives me/us lots of flexibility…they are considering what we are considering…the historical and the personal, the “behind the scenes” theatrical world and the “audience”/”public” realm and all the interfaces between.

Happy to talk it all through. I’ll be at home on Monday if you want to ring…

Best to you



Freedom & perestroika

Freedom – Perestroika. The East Side Gallery, Berlin. Photo: LB.


Email from Laura to Peter, Monday 1 June 2015, 11:33

Hi Peter,

Thanks very much for this. I can see the distinction you’re making between the interviews with the theatre practitioners and those with the Stasi archivist and prison guide – that makes a lot of sense. It’s trickier with the theatre practitioners as they would always stay identifiable as individuals even if we tried to anonymise them, due to the film we’re making. I think if we were to focus on their testimony, it would be interesting to intercut their memories with evidence from the files about how the authorities saw them then, indicating ways in which the interviewees actually downplay the political significance of their actions in the GDR – but that would be a completely different kind of project, and I think it would only work if we were able to work with them and the material so that they were fully involved in the development process … which we can’t!

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Memorial to Wolfgang Langhoff outside the Deutsches Theater, Berlin. Photo: LB.

We’ll need to think about how the material from the archives could be used, as that is also related to real historical individuals. I have seen theatres in Germany incorporate archive material from the GDR into productions, so there are precedents for this, although it’s usually the case that theatres are looking into their own history, so there’s a sense that they have some ownership over the material. The archive legislation would allow us to quote material by ‘figures from contemporary history’ and by people who held office in the GDR and were writing in their official capacity. We can also include material relating to people who have been dead for at least 30 years (which would actually allow us to use some material from censorship cases in the 1960s, e.g. relating to Wolfgang Langhoff and Worries and Power). We’d need to anonymise the rest of the sources, but there would be scope for doing this, given the number of theatre practitioners in the GDR. I did actually anonymise the sources that needed to be anonymised before I gave them to you.

We’ll be taking some artistic licence by incorporating archive material into the play, as it took time for people to start accessing the material in state and Party archives after the Wall came down. I’ve had a look at some articles on censorship published in the main GDR/ex-GDR theatre journal, Theater der Zeit, in 1990-91 and they rely on material from the Academy of Arts, newspapers, and interviews with theatre practitioners, rather than the sorts of government/Party papers that we have access to now. I think the first attempt to access these papers on theatre was in 1991. But the resonance of the Jan. 1990 setting is just so strong that I think it makes sense to take some artistic licence – and then for me to explain the approach in a programme note.

The issue with the Stasi prison material may come down to how significant a role it plays in the overall piece – I think it will be important for it not to be the main point of contrast/comparison to the theatre practitioners’ experiences, as it might make it hard to show the nuances. I think it’ll also be important to have a variety of voices speak through the archive material, so that it shows the complexity and doesn’t just (or mainly) represent the voices of hardliners like Hager and Verner. But I do like your idea of having the theatre practitioners discuss the ethics, as that’s a really good way of framing the material and reflecting on the sensitivities, and on what they feel they should be showing on stage.

This was partly to help me think through the issues – I will give you a ring this afternoon, also to update you on Susan’s plans for the film. She has booked the post-production in already!

All the best,



Breaking down walls

‘We need to dismantle lots of walls.’ The East Side Gallery, Berlin. Photo: LB.


Email from Laura to Peter, Monday 1 June, 15:43

Hi Peter,

Good to chat on the phone just now. I’ll try to reconstruct the main threads of the conversation so that it will work as an email exchange for the website.

I think the first question was whether you had a sense of the sorts of verbatim archive material you want to use in the play, and what you want it to do.

One of the issues connected to this was what the characters’ play would actually focus on. You mentioned in the outline that it would focus on the workings of the Stasi, but how would that sit with the AHRC commission, which was to look at theatre censorship? Can the focus of the characters’ play shift so that it looks at questions of censorship and artistic production, and the Stasi is one element in this? Do you have a sense of how much material you might include on the Stasi prison?

Another issue was which archive sources you would actually be quoting from – how to incorporate a variety of voices, without exposing testimony on private individuals (rather than regime figures) to public view. Could we restrict the authentic verbatim material to leading regime figures, and then use the full range of other testimony to inspire the creation of fictional archive sources – sources which the characters in the play treat as real, but which don’t actually relate to real theatre productions or people?

Something else we talked about ages ago was why you decided not to write the fictional scenes based on Brecht’s play Fear and Misery of the Third Reich – scenes exploring different situations and attitudes in a dictatorship. Could you explain why you’ve decided that isn’t the right approach for the characters’ play?

We’ve been talking a lot about the ethical issues connected to the project, about our responsibility to the people whose stories we’re telling, and also to the AHRC who is funding the project. How do you feel about this, especially when the project is about censorship?

All the best,



Car bursting through Wall

An allusion to ‘test the west’, an advertising slogan for West German cigarettes. The car’s number plate bears the date that the border was opened. Photo: LB.


Email from Peter to Laura, Monday 1 June 2015, 20:08

Hi Laura

I’m replying tonight after a minor computing disaster which means I have to re-do tomorrow everything I did today…plus what i had to do tomorrow… Anyway…

I agree that the reminiscences of our interviewees exist theatrically and morally in a very different territory than does other archive material…and neither of them occupy the same kind of space as my fictionalised characters who have emerged from your research. A big part of the experiment, theatrically speaking, has been and remains the way that these different languages intersect … and it may be that the ethics of the editing process are more intricate than my initial ideas suggested.

I still think the interviews are dynamite material for actors to work with, by the way… I think it was the context in which their words were placed … that is their juxtaposition with the prison material … that took us into delicate territory.

I think if they were identified MORE specifically rather than less … and if their reminiscences sat by themselves, and not in possibly contentious juxtaposition to other material, they might work very well … just in different terms … no material is wasted. Likewise, the archive material and the prison and archive interviews are easily capable of their own dramatic life.

It’s just that now I am going to create something in a wholly different register, not repudiating what has been done, but adding to the assortment of stuff we can throw up in the air in August to see where it lands.

P1050199 2 copyI have to tell you too that I have absolutely no regrets about what we did in April. I remain convinced that those who objected that the juxtaposition of theatrical anecdote with prison vans was tendentious were utterly wrong to interpret that as our intention … any more than is channel hopping between Channel Four news reporting on drowning refugees and the Big Bang Theory on E4 plus One….the coexistence of the terrible and the frivolous is our condition…and the apparently frivolous is no less human and no less the result of hard work than is the searing TV report … context is everything…

As it was in the GDR…

Anyway, I don’t want to fight old fights… (well I do … but I want to do more than that) and I think that what we’ve learned is a greater respect, perhaps for nuance, and that you can’t predict or control an audience’s perceptions. And weren’t there lots of cases in the GDR when an event on stage acquired a political resonance from its context that was entirely dependent on the time and place?

By the way, the same truth means that the characters can TALK about moments like that (like the GDR audience response to the hole in the wall in Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example) but we can never recreate that experience for a contemporary audience.

Oddly … the debate about what our intentions were in the after-show discussion after the reading … were as close to that conflict as I want to get … both in terms of my feeling I had misjudged the audience (or some of the audience) completely and being told, in the context of a project inspired by censorship … that I shouldn’t say the kind of thing I was thought to have said.

It is interesting how this project starts as a research into one paradigm of the sayable and the unsayable…and then in execution takes into other territory which requires negotiation. In a very different context from the surveillance society of the GDR … but with our own … what’s the best word? …. etiquette … we need to negotiate within parameters that fits no more neatly into “free expression” vs “censorship” than did, on the surface, the regime of policed art in the theatre of the GDR. (Where one of the things it was most important to censor was the very fact of censorship.) We have ethical standards to do with representation of individuals as opposed the imperative to represent the state in a relentlessly positive light…We deal with the state too, of course, because we too are publically funded and therefore are held accountable to the state … but for us accountability is couched in terms of money rather than ideology. The model we work with is contractual … we are obliged to deliver what we say we will deliver … while in the former East Germany the imperative was more moralistic … the theatre has the specific role of encouraging the audience to go out and work for socialism, while we in the spheres of both academia and the subsidised arts live rather uneasily within a paradigm of “public service” that is itself deeply conflicted and subject to successive waves of bureaucratic fashion. We all have to justify ourselves. We all have to negotiate with funders and audiences and ideology.

(You can see that for me the project has enormous contemporary resonance.)

I take all your suggestions on board, with regard to a focus on particular issues of censorship, but I have to tell you, the characters are going to lead me where they’re going to go. Writing a character-led play is not just an intellectual exercise. Intention only gets you so far. Contracts and artistic freedom mix just as uneasily as do art and the demands of the state (with financial rather than judicial consequences!). I intend to dramatise a moment in time … I think we’ve found the right one, the one that will speak to us most directly, but it is the dilemmas and questions that occur to me in the here and now that are going to dominate what I do, and will certainly, no matter WHAT I do, determine the audience responses we get in August at the next public stage. If we’ve learned anything through this process so far, it is the same lesson that the authorities in the GDR finally learned…or that overwhelmed them. You can’t stop history, you can’t kill ideas, and you can’t control audiences.

I’m afraid you’re going to have to let me come up with what I come up with. And I can predict it in general outline, as I have in the document I just sent … but I can’t and won’t be more specific. Research I think has to inspire art that is something very different from itself, not merely a translation into a different mode of presentation … and subjectivity and accident, despite our contractual model, are part of the deal…

Forgive the rant … but thinking through the issues is what we’re doing right the way through this project, and I actually find it rather thrilling that what we’re doing isn’t just ABOUT the issues of the sayable and the unsayable … it is itself part of that debate … that the process is the product … to risk another cliché.

Looking forward rather nervously to the next bit…as I’m sure are you…because if I can’t really predict it, it must be REALLY scary for you…




Twilight of the gods

Twilight of the Gods. The East Side Gallery, Berlin. Photo: LB.


Email from Peter to Laura, Tuesday 2 June 2015, 08:52

Hi Laura

Here’s a thought. I think the creative role that you can best fulfill for the facilitation of the script right now … is to imagine yourself in the position of the dramaturg of an East German Theatre for whom the task is to dig out material from previously hidden sources … maybe using the fact that you had good relationships with GDR officials who themselves were queasy about the machine they were part of … and that you heroically have found and selected these random and interesting bits of “truth” … from the local Stasi, from the theatre’s correspondence..and “as the accident wills” stuff that is evocative, interesting … SUBJECTIVELY … that is, this dramaturg feels empowered, as a researcher, to bring stuff to the artists that is just quirky… nice…

So … that’s what the dramaturg has done … but they’ve also found out some stuff about their colleagues that they didn’t want to know and don’t know if they should tell them…

It would be great if we treated the stuff you’ve sent me so far and what you might choose to send me over the next month as a kind of acting, imaginative exercise.

Then, like dramaturgs, you hand it over to the “arty” types … who ignore it, get it wrong, misread it, get upset … you know, like arty types do…

As for me, I just need to allow myself the creative freedom for each of the characters to breathe… What your research and our conversations have given me is a journey for each character through a difficult morning in the rehearsal room … but until they start actually doing things and saying things to each other, changing each other… I find it really hard to predict any more precisely than you do … oddly … my relationship to the characters is not that of a puppet master… in fact, the way I want to write this piece, the roles are rather reversed … they are going to take me where they are going to take me … and it’s a bit scary, as I said last night…

And that “scare” is partly where there is a danger of crossed wires between us. I’m not directly comparing the situation … but our relationship to each other is not un-analogous to any artistic/funded partnership in any social set up … this being the nub of the exercise, it seems to me … that we can understand THEIR situation THROUGH ours … and vice versa… You are thinking about your funders … and you are transmitting your concern about those funders to me… (and of course, your funders are also, less directly, MY funders … we both have very real irons in a very real fire)

And, like with the manager of an East German Theatre who is responsible to the state … the funders .. to the artists and to the audience… and to themselves … you are in a complex little web…

Where I am demanding that you trust me … and the whole set-up tells you that you can’t … and where we are documenting everything… putting everything out there…

(Which, again, the funders want … but what degree of controversy do they REALLY want… they want a public display of happy unity of purpose towards a shared goal that no one has any doubts about… sound familiar?)

Where you have a decision to make now whether you put this exchange of ideas on a website … where you have to decide whether the intemperate blog I might write in a moment of frustration (and those ALWAYS happen… there are always days where, having written fifty-odd plays, I am wholly convinced I am quite incapable of writing another one, an undirected anger flies all over the place) is something you want to publish.

Now, from my point of view, I say “great … let it all hang out there … let’s fight on camera! ” but … hey … I’m not you. I have my own version of reality.

This is precisely what I want to dramatise for our characters … versions of reality … all of which are valid and complex and understandable … but which clash… which contradict … and the contradiction between them, unresolved onstage … is the space for thought that the audience, unpredictably, occupy.

There are two stages to the writing of any play … and the great thing about this project is that we get to do them on film … and in sight of each other. The first stage is me being all the actors, on the stage, saying what it occurs to me to say … exploring all the possible actions of all the possible persons within the arena I’ve set up for them.

Brecht statue

Statue of Brecht outside the Berliner Ensemble, by Fritz Cremer. Photo: LB.

The second stage, which we will actually DO in August … is for me to step OFF the stage into the audience … and watch what I’ve got. This, in this instance, will be the verbatim material (including archives and interviews) plus whatever I and the characters come up with in the meantime (this, in real life as opposed to contracts with funders, is going to go right down to the wire, by the way … we are not going to know exactly what we and the audience for the discussion are going to get before they get it…

Then, having thrown everything into the room … we pick up the pieces and make a tourable wee script out of them … which we try to get interest in from producers… suck it and see….

This is how the rest of the project maps out for me … and it’s thrilling to do it all in the open like this … it’s channelling the spirit of Brecht in the best possible way… (my thoughts, like E. German Theatre are haunted by his ghost)…

But if we’re going to be as open as I want us to be… then that demands things from all of us who are involved in this. We are leaving ourselves exposed to the winds of accident that blow … and we have to know we’re all in it together… and that no one has an umbrella…

I’d better leave this before my letter gets even longer or my metaphor more tortured…

I think these two letters might go on the blog. It doesn’t matter about paying for them…thinking it through is its own reward.

Before I disappear into the room….




Email from Laura to Peter, Tuesday 2 June, 13:06

Hi Peter,

Thanks very much for both these emails – lots to digest and I will definitely be putting them up on the website! I’ll reply properly when I have a bit more time (meetings galore today).

I’ve been putting together the poster for the Fringe reading, and it is looking good! Will forward it when I have the final version.



No man's land

No man’s land. The East Side Gallery, Berlin. Photo: LB.


Email from Laura to Peter, Wednesday 3 June, 18:41

Hi Peter,

I’ve finally handed my last batch of exam marking over to the office, so now I have the chance to engage with your last two emails! When we were designing the project last year (I guess it’s actually 18 months ago now), we thought it would throw up lots of interesting issues, and we haven’t been disappointed! Susan will be rubbing her hands with glee for the film.

I was interested that you stressed that you didn’t regret anything about the version we performed at Oran Mor – interested because I don’t necessarily think you should have any regrets. After all, the point was to experiment and to put material before the audience, and see how they reacted.

I wasn’t under the impression that anyone in the audience thought that the intention had been to use the prison testimony to undermine aspects of the theatre practitioners’ testimony. I can see why the juxtapositions had this effect for some spectators, though. I understand why you see the sets of testimony as separate, but juxtaposing one piece of testimony with another on stage may unintentionally invite spectators to compare and judge them in relation to each other – to create a synthesis out of a dialectical clash. The choice of contrasts may already imply a judgement, even unintentionally, and so I do feel a responsibility in terms of what we choose to juxtapose and how, especially when that testimony is provided by – or relates to – real people.

I think your idea of having the characters discuss and argue over the juxtapositions will make a major difference, though. It frames the juxtapositions as sensitive and open to different interpretations, and it makes the play ethically aware in a way that should be fascinating. That seems a really productive result of the experiment.

And yes, context is hugely important too. One point I wish I’d anticipated, or thought about, is that an English accent has different cultural connotations in Glasgow compared to East Berlin. In East Berlin, it would have signified cosmopolitanism, being cultured, the values of humanism – especially when that English accent and language had been learned in exile during the Second World War, by someone whose family had fled the Third Reich. The accent played differently in Glasgow, especially because it contrasted with the Scottish accents of the other characters, including the Researcher (and let’s face it, my accent is as English as they come).

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Script development workshop. From left: Nicola McCartney, Rebecca Elise, Mark McDonnell, Janette Foggo, Peter Arnott, and George Docherty.

Why didn’t I anticipate this? I think partly because the accent was used as a solution to a practical problem – how to differentiate between the two characters that the actor was playing – and partly because of the dynamics of the situation in the rehearsal room. We’d set ourselves quite a tall order, trying out a brand new script and performing it on the second evening of the workshop to an audience of up to 120 people. For me it was fascinating to watch the script come alive, to see how our first audience – the actors – reacted, and especially to see how you listened to the feedback and the rhythms of the text, went away and produced a completely new beginning and a new ending overnight. Looking back on it now, the theatrical aspect dominated during the workshop over the aspects we’ve been discussing since, and I’ve found the post-show reflection and exchange of ideas really worthwhile. I guess we’ll have different, equally legitimate perspectives on the balance between the Darwinian needs of the play (to borrow your phrasing) and the responsibilities that you mentioned, to the funding body, the people we interviewed, and so on. That’s not to say that we don’t each recognise that both of these elements are important, but that we’re coming at the issue from different perspectives, with different (or non-identical) interests. I hope that the tension between those perspectives proves productive!

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Franziska Linkerhand, dir. Christoph Schrott, Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater Schwerin, 1978-9. Photo: Sigrid Meixner. AdK.

So we’re back now with the trust and responsibility you mentioned – two words that played an important part in GDR censorship discourse. You talked in your last email about finding similarities in the experience of artistic production in very different contexts, and I’ve often experienced sudden flashes of recognition on reading archive documents from the GDR – recognising patterns of behaviour in East German Party comrades that I’ve seen in University committee meetings. We’re all human. I guess the challenge is to balance that sense of similarity with the very real differences that you note in the two contexts. The potential consequences of speaking out of turn were just so much more severe in the GDR. If I feel that I can’t publish a comment on a University website, funded by the AHRC, then that comment could still be published on other platforms – whereas the state monopoly on theatre in the GDR meant that theatre practitioners could in theory be excluded from the entire theatre industry, or rendered unemployable for certain roles (e.g. directing), or find themselves placed under surveillance. There was even an employee at the Ministry for Culture who was sacked after he protested against the censorship of Franziska Linkerhand in 1979 – he told me that he wasn’t able to work anywhere in the culture industry, not even in a fairground. And I think that our contract with the AHRC actually still leaves a very broad remit for experimentation, even if it maybe doesn’t always feel that way to you!

I know you agreed earlier to having the outlines of the play published online – shall we do that now, to chart the evolution of the experiment? I think they’re a nice illustration of your point that outlines only get us so far … which I think everyone understands. It’s just the same with most research proposals, when you have to predict what you might find out as a result of research that you – and no one else – has ever done before! And the value of setting you loose on the material (if you don’t mind me putting it that way!) is that you’ll find interesting angles on it that we won’t have thought of, and ways of engaging with audiences.

So am I scared about where it might be heading next? Actually no, as long as the play engages with censorship and meets the ethical criteria, and I think you’ve found really interesting ways of doing that. And it’s been a treat to see you work so far, to see how the script has changed over the course of the development workshop, and how the ideas of what the play might be have developed over the project so far. So I’m curious about where the characters will take you, and you’ve really convinced me that the 1990 rehearsal room is the place to start that journey.

In terms of the archive material, I’m conscious of having sent a lot your way already (26,000 words of translated archive sources, plus all the articles, the book and interviews!). What’s been really helpful so far is when you’ve asked for material on specific things (how banal real-life problems are reflected in the material, or for material on the informant “Hölderlin”). Could you give me a nudge in the direction of the stories/personalities/situations that you want more on? Then I can start digging in the right places.

Another option might be if we were to get together in the next week or two in my office (where I have all the archive material), and bat ideas back and forth, then I can pull out the files and give you the gist of different sources. I can then translate the ones that whet your appetite. How does that sound?

All the best,



Email from Peter to Laura, Friday 5 June, 09:30

Hi Laura

I think our playwright in the story had to leave after submitting a play about Oskar Brüsewitz…(I have resonances in mind with Peter Brook and “US”) ..the Lutheran Pastor who killed himself in 1976.

I think this play having become a hit in the West has always been impossible to perform in the East..and that the director and Dramaturg want to programme it in 1990….

Only the playwright, it turns out, doesn’t want them to…

Now…this pleases me enormously as the bone of old contention around which the drama can be focussed. There is, however, very little about said Oskar Brüsewitz in English…(this is the Wikipedia Page).

Would it be too onerous for you to follow a link or two and see if there is anything particularly juicy? Like the Neues Deutschland piece alluded to? And that you might translate wee bits for me?

Do feel free to put this on our website too if you think it appropriate…

Best ever



Email from Laura to Peter, Friday 5 June 2015, 09:48

Oh, this is really interesting, Peter! Yes, I will do some digging & translating for you. The National Library has the issues of Neues Deutschland we need, so I’ll try to get those articles as soon as possible. And I have a feeling that there may be references to the case in some of my archive notes too.

Looking forward to this!



Email from Laura to Peter, Sunday 7 June 2015, 20:29

Hi Peter,

I’ve translated the Neues Deutschland article for you and will send it to you tomorrow after I’ve checked it through. I know you will find it useful! (Sorry, it’s rather mean to dangle it in front of you like this and then not attach it!).

I had some ideas about your play-within-a-play while walking back home just now. GDR theatre practitioners didn’t set out to create obviously oppositional plays, and they tended to see themselves as the better socialists, wanting to reform the state and not seeing the West as an alternative. Controversial plays tended either to be about ways of improving socialism (if they were set in the GDR), or they tended to be historical dramas that approached the present through allegory. So how might the Brüsewitz play have come to be written, and why mightn’t the playwright want his old colleagues to stage it? Is there a way of doing this that would ring true if real GDR theatre practitioners were to come to see your play?

What I wondered was: maybe the playwright had originally written a different play in 1976, that was in rehearsal when Brüsewitz died. Maybe it was a historical drama – perhaps about Luther nailing his theses to the door in Wittenberg (which was in the GDR!), and then saying ‘here I stand, I can do no other’ – that seemed totally innocuous until the news about Brüsewitz broke, and suddenly became horribly relevant. Maybe the playwright fought for the show to go on, but didn’t have enough support from his colleagues in the theatre… so left for the West, and wrote his play about the real Brüsewitz there. And now the theatre wants to stage this Brüsewitz play, when it let the authorities censor the Luther one earlier.

Another point I was wondering about: is your play-within-a-play going to be about Brüsewitz directly, or about a character inspired by him? If the former, what’s best practice in approaching a well-known real-life story like this, when the individual still has close surviving relatives? How have you approached this in the past? I’ve asked Nicola for her view on this too!

All best,



Email from Peter to Laura, Monday 8 June 2015, 14:58

They’re going to discuss the play…I don’t know whether or not there will be excerpts from it…But I shall think about your questions…


TV tower

The former East German television tower, Berlin. Photo: LB.

Reflecting on reception: the first draft at Òran Mór

Peter ArnottIt’s been some time since I blogged on this site. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that I’ve been away doing other things. Most importantly, and of some relevance to this project, I’ve been working on a play by the contemporary Russian playwright Yuri Klavdiev. One of the things that has become evident in that exercise (of rendering a translation of his new play Thoughts from Above Spoken Aloud into Scottish-actor-friendly English) is that Yuri is clearly dealing with the sayable and the unsayable in his own context…and is using the fact that his new play is being premiered here to talk explicitly about drug use and homosexuality in a way that is considered bad taste and unhelpful in his native Russia. Indeed, work on this project about theatre censorship in the former East Germany, and the way in which censorship was always “shy” to speak its name, allows you to smell in questions of taste a rather more sinister and coercive agenda. There are certain things one does not say. There are certain “losers” one does not depict. When theatre has a specific political purpose (that of sending the audience out more than ever determined to build actually existing socialism in the former GDR, or a positive and deeply uncomplicated expression of national culture in Putin’s Russia), many of the mechanisms and motives of “censorship that isn’t censorship” raise their heads.

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Script development workshop hosted by the Playwrights’ Studio. From left: Nicola McCartney, Rebecca Elise, Mark McDonnell, Janette Foggo, Peter Arnott, George Docherty.

Artists are problematic people. They need to be guided and persuaded. As Kurt Hager, who was in charge of cultural policy for the GDR Politbüro put it in 1972: “If we speak calmly to our writers, in a comradely fashion, our experience is that in most cases, he’ll be prepared to make changes.”[1]

The language of control was always that of “helping”.  Under all regimes, in all circumstances, this has remained true. Even as an artist in the “free West” one is keenly aware that questions of taste are deeply connnected to questions of funding. It is true that many of the attitudes that are thought as proper to be celebrated….social responsibility and cohesion…are difficult to argue with, as is the effective prohibition (in terms of public funding) of overtly racist or sexist or terrorist material, for example. But “social irresponsibility” is not a million miles from thought-crime. A simple opposition between freedom and unfreedom of expression is not, is never as simple as conventional wisdom would have it. Nuance, as is clear to me in my own context, and as is clearly shown by Yuri Klavdiev’s difficulties with the powers that be, is everything.

It was an attempt tP1050175 copyo demonstrate this complexity and these nuances that lay behind the first, “verbatim” stage of development of the project/play I’m calling Ensemble. First, of course, it was in ensembles that German theatre was and is primarily organised.The actors were “together” with the audience and the state in a common enterprise underwritten first by the regional autonomies which were and are such an important feature of German civil society. Even in modern and budget-constricted times, each major city and region retains and supports a producing theatre whose resources are lavish by standards here. In the time of the GDR, anxious to demonstrate continuity with pre-Nazi German culture, both East and West Germanies supported theatre as a civic good and as an advertisement for their competing ways of life. The relationship between the two German theatre cultures was no more simple and unnuanced by history and a certain amount of doublethink than were the economic relations between the two. Both culture and economy were, among other things, elements of competition between the two for custody of the “real” German culture, a culture that reflected positive civic values. Tensions again existed within and between both Germanies at different times as to what that might mean.

What I tried to do, using the research and interviews conducted by Laura Bradley and Susan Kemp in late 2014 as the basis for a script where the reminiscences of senior figures from “old” East Germany like Maik Hamburger and Manfred Karge were counterpoised with direct quotation from regime figures like Kurt Hager above and contemporary accounts of the Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen.

What I was trying to demonstrate was complexity…that both these prisons and the largely positive experiences of theatre makers from the glory days of the Berliner Ensemble to the culture-led breakdown of communism in the eighties …co-existed. Both truths were simultaneously true in exactly the same way Sicilian Norman architecture is simultaneously “real” alongside refugee boats landing from Libya.

Ritter der Tafelrunde

The Knights of the Round Table, dir. Klaus Dieter Kirst, Staatsschauspiel Dresden, 1989. Photo: H-L Boehme.

It is one of the great advantages of theatre in the debating of political and social and historical issues that two opposed arguments, two versions of reality can appear on stage at the same time. Indeed, it is the speculative space between the arguments, between the lines, which is precisely where theatre derives its power as a way of involving the audience in the creation of the story “in between” that can acquire immediate political meanings in certain contexts…as did the production of Christoph Hein’s play The Knights of the Round Table that featured heavily in my text, where King Arthur’s knights – deluded, defeated, morally and intellectually bankrupt old men denying the passage of time and the failure and corruption of their hopes – mapped very obviously and directly onto an implied critique of the antediluvian Politbüro of the 1980s, another group of old men both helpless and bewildered in their resistance to the winds of change then blowing into the GDR from Russia, of all places.

My hope was in the telling of these two opposed but truthful stories, drawing on, perhaps even exploiting the candour with which all the interviewees had “confessed” the complexity of their own feelings about the regime both at the time and in retrospect, their insistence that is, on nuance…compared to the raw and unnuanced facts of prison conditions…would be enlightening and helpful for the project and for the audience.

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The audience at Oran Mor, with Susan Kemp filming.

I was thinking differently by the end of the night. And this is my other reason for hesitating to cheerfully blog a happy and uncomplicated success. And the reason I can’t do that is because the audience discussion after the show was neither uncomplicated nor wholly successful. I didn’t respond all that well to the criticism that came my way. I was expecting, perhaps, approbation rather than guidance from the audience.

But the first two speakers in the discussion objected very strongly to what they felt was an insulting decison that we’d made to make fun of the interviewees, to play their words, as they put it, for laughs. The feeling was that in placing the complex but basically positive recollections of the theatre makers alongside the descriptions of the prison, we were mocking the interviewees, that we were diminishing them.

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Rehearsing at Oran Mor: Peter with the cast. From left: George Docherty, Nicola McCartney, Rebecca Elise, Janette Foggo, Mark McDonnell.

I must confess to being absolutely shocked, and rather angry (not least on my actors’ behalf). Here I was, I thought, in the middle of a project about censorship, and I was being censured for promoting inappropriate laughter…exactly the kind of laughter, I thought, perhaps unfairly, that so troubled the authorities in the GDR. Because (and this is perhaps what I didn’t make clear), the laughter of an audience largely made of theatre professionals, I thought, was a warm and generous laughter of recognition. They recognised – as I had, as the actors had – kindred spirits in the ironic, complex voices of Karge and Hamburger. They recognised that there is an ineluctable element of what more serious souls might regard as frivolous dilettantism and irresponsibility in theatre makers everywhere…that we theatre makers are slippery, ambiguous creatures driven by personal excitement as well as lofty political and literary purpose. After all, the church used to bury us at crossroads, communist and fascist regimes used to put us in prison, and we are censured for insufficient moral and fiscal rectitude as a regular part of our lives here in the “free” West.

(I was criticised very vituperatively in the press for celebrating this morally ambiguous quality in my play Swindle and Death. I’d only point out that Brecht’s heroes often demostrate precisely the same quality…but I digress)

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Nicola McCartney chairing the post-show discussion with Peter and Laura.

To enter into the spirit of self-criticism, my reaction on the night was a little intemperate, and not uninflected with injured egoism. But I had obviously failed to persuade at least those first two members of the audience of what I was trying to do. And that has made me wonder since about whether they might not have been right. Even as another part of me indignantly protests that I knew exactly what I was doing.

Even the writing of this blog has been a second attempt…I was a little too close to the emotional hurt of the enterprise to write this earlier.

I had had such a good time, you see, working with friends and colleagues – the talented actors Janette Foggo, Mark McDonnell, Rebecca Elise, George Docherty, and Nicola McCartney – and enjoyably putting the show on (even at an early experimental stage) in front of my peers.

And then the audience turned up. And I was led to reflect uneasily on the line that exists between injured ego and censorship of appropriate and inappropriate laughter.

In any case, next time, I’ll be talking about what happens next. With the advice of Klaus Dieter Kirst ringing in my ears: “To listen as much as possible to start with, and to invite people from a diverse range of areas. And because it’s so important – the thing that we do rather miss from the former GDR – the shades of grey, the nuances. Too much is brought down to a common denominator. And that way we lose a lot of the tension and interest; it all becomes so straightforward, so simple. And we lose the sense of what constituted small successes, cunning, happiness, satisfaction. How a human being could be split down the middle.”[2]


[1] ‘Stenografische Niederschrift der Beratung’, BArch DY 30 IV B 2/2.024/29. See Laura Bradley, Cooperation and Conflict: GDR Theatre Censorship, 1961-1989 (Oxford: OUP, 2010), Chapter 4.

[2] Interview between Klaus Dieter Kirst and Laura Bradley, Dresden, 8 December 2014.

Living in Truth

Peter ArnottThis project, Who’s Watching Who, is something of a test case. What is being tested is the idea of extending the reach and impact of academic research by involving a non-academic with access to a non- academic audience.

That is, it is involving me. Exactly HOW it is involving me is taking me a little by surprise.

A year ago, when we first talked about this project, Laura Bradley and I, we thought along rather more expected lines: that I would use her research as the basis of a new play. I would construct a piece of fiction based on her “truth”. So far so normal.

But then we began our project “for real”, and the “engagement “ I began to have with Laura’s existing and “hot off the press” research material, particularly in the forms of original documents she collected and (with others) translated, and in the forms of the interviews she conducted with theatre practitioners and others in Berlin and elsewhere this winter, began to challenge my pre-conceptions of the process of our engagement and I needed to allow the realities of that process to overcome my pre-conceived ideas about what the “product” would be. Quotation marks, as you can see, began sprouting all over the landscape.

I want to approach what has been going on in my mind and on my laptop from two angles.

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Seats at the Berliner Ensemble.

First, there was the “problem” that had been there all along. Laura’s research is into a time period that is dead and gone and into a culture which demands explanation to a general audience who don’t have immediate access to the cultural memory of that time and place. The research question of the entire project, indeed, could be “Why should they care?” In more immediate, practical terms, would actors and theatre companies be in any way interested in anecdotes of Fear and Misery in the German Democratic Republic?

The conventional answer to this question might be, tentatively : “Well, if you come up with interesting characters and put them in an interesting situation, then actors and producers and, ultimately, audiences, might well respond to them. People liked “The Lives of Others” didn’t they?”

While this is of course, true, it did seem rather to ask me to take a somewhat predatory attitude to Laura’s research. To treat the material as just that…stuff to be used to decorate a story.

And I think I’ve come up with a way to do something like that. And to look at ideas for an educational theatre project.

But then I heard those voices. Or rather, as I was unwell and couldn’t make it to Berlin before Christmas…I read the transcripts of interviews with Manfred Karge, Klaus Dieter Kirst, Maik Hamburger and others…and I wondered whether the inherent drama, the action-in-itself of these people being asked to look back at their careers in the GDR 25 years and more ago, whether this looking back was not in itself an important part of the story I might want to tell.

Laura’s boBradley book cover - underpinning researchok, Conflict and Cooperation: GDR Theatre Censorship, 1961-1989 is a nuanced, case study based “revisionist” account of the practice and meaning of theatre censorship in the GDR. Basically, she is adding a human dimension and a time dimension to the phenomenon. Her thesis, if you like, is a revisiting of the cold war paradigm of “the expressive artist and the silencing state” and positing it rather as an ongoing relationship and series of negotiations between the artists and their state supporters/censors – one governed by the contingencies of making a living, sustaining a career and protecting the ongoing work of theatre companies and their employees. In short, Laura is interested in the “normality” of making theatre in the GDR, as well as the moments of crisis. The conclusion one gets as a reader is that the very particular circumstances of theatre making in a divided German culture distinguished the personal situations of theatre practitioners (and managers and supervisors) from even other situations in the “Soviet Bloc” countries. But that there are points of comparison to be made even with the state supported (and regulated) theatres of the West.

Brecht statue

Brecht statue by Fritz Cremer.

(Now personally, I find this extremely interesting in any terms, being a theatre practitioner with an enthusiasm for German theatre. Indeed I might be described as a devotee of Bertolt Brecht as well as a bit of a fan boy for the work of playwrights and directors like Kroetz and Handke and Weiss and Muller and Karge and Fassbinder to name but six. It is debatable whether my being a fan actually rather mitigates against my being a dispassionate “user” of this research for story telling purposes. What is saving me from the fate of being a half assed academic is that my thoughts are about audiences as well as about the powers and strategies that govern my own creative practice and as well as my own historical and philosophical interests in the lost era of “actually existing socialism.”)

So what can the reminiscences of theatre practitioners of that lost world say to an audience now? What points of connection will an audience find? What is the point of any story from another time or place? What do the remembered experiences of living in a surveillance state say to us now? What can we recognise in our experience of the world now in the recollected experience of the world then?

I’ve made the decision to eliminate myself as the middle man and ask the audience directly. That is, I have decided that the way forward with this project, not pre-judging what any other outcomes may prove to be in the course of time, is to put a piece of verbatim theatre text together consisting of the interviews that Laura did, and quotations from primary contemporary sources. And that all this should be informed by the other text which I came across more or less randomly as I read around the periphery of the topic.


Vaclav Havel  Jiří Jiroutek, 2006.

What I came across that has most radically transformed my understanding of the period under study, and what a new approach to understanding that period might say to us in our new “dark times” is an essay written by Vaclav Havel in 1979 : “The power of the powerless”. I’ll write specifically about this remarkable piece of work in another blog, but for the moment, let me just say that if there is one piece of work to read that gives real felt insight into “post-totalitarian society” – that is into the post 1968 world of the Soviet Bloc, it’s this. Now, I can already hear the academic objections that the situation in the fraternal neighbours of Communist Czechoslovakia and the Democratic German Republic were very different in very many ways, and of course this is true, but at this distance of time, Havel’s insights, and their relevance for the modern world, overwhelm the objections of strict relevance…particularly if one thinks about how verbatim theatre actually works.

And this is on the basis not of narrative sequence, but of juxtaposition…what Eisenstein called montage. You put thing A and thing B beside each other on the same space or screen at the same time…and neither element loses its own distinct identity…rather, what happens is that the audience create thing C…which is their perceived connection between the two elements…and it is between a succession of “thing C” of unspoken and necessarily unarticulated connections that a narrative structure emerges. It is dialectics in action, which has its own attractions when Marxist praxis is one of the things on the table.

The key idea that Havel articulates as being behind the activities of Charter 77 and of the Czech Underground (some of whom I have met since in various bars in central Europe) is the existential challenge to a system based on living a lie – what he calls, “living in truth”

P1050032 copy

Plaque commemorating protest by actors in Dresden in 1989.

Living in Truth is what the stories told in Laura’s research and in the memories and observations of the interviewees might well take as their unifying theme. How do you live well, morally, truthfully, in ANY society…let alone under the particular circumstances in which they found themselves in the GDR. How do I, or we or anyone else, “live in truth” in the here and now where, for example, a single economic orthodoxy is held to be universally and self-evidently true under all circumstances, or where religious faith is associated with a terroristic rejection of that truth, and is a much greater existential challenge to “the way things are” than it is a military one. Where that existential challenge has prompted a response of total surveillance and suspending of the legal rights of enemies in defence of freedom , of our way of life”

And I began to think that simply allowing these voices to speak for themselves, simply presenting them, but mediated through Havel’s ideas might not speak to our experience as well as testify truthfully to theirs.

And in this way, I would no longer be looking to simply exploit the research as window dressing for the “real” human story, rather, I’d be paying tribute to its testimony, and allowing the audience to make the connections that form the “human interest”. At the same time, we could consider this project and its relationship between the academic and non-academic worlds in an unexpected and provocative way, without prejudging or precluding any further “use” that my colleagues in the theatre world and I might want to make of it.

And, in terms of the research question which my practice is designed to address, to ask whether the extension of the “reach” of academic research does not necessarily mean a change to its nature. Whether there is a phenomenological demand on the research content concomitant with that “stretch” of its use. Whether the reflex towards “extending the audience” might not simply be a way of cementing the social worth of research itself in the wider funding context but might also offer interesting re-interpretations of its own nature, of how research“lives in truth” as it were. Whether a dialogue between researcher and playwright can also become a dialogue between the immediate constituencies of academia and theatre making and thereby offers essentially unpredictable challenges to the meaning of that research within those constituencies and beyond them.

But only if we allow the material to speak for itself, and to provide a mediated public space in which it can do just that. This is now the purpose of this project, for me, at this juncture in its development.

Verbatim Theatre and Actually Existing Socialism – Some thoughts on an approach to Ensemble

Peter Arnott‘In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it, and over it.’ GOETHE

‘According to Marx and Engels the dialectic system is only the conscious reproduction of the dialectic course (substance) of the external events of the world.

Thus: The projection of the dialectic system of things into the brain into creating abstractly into the process of thinking yields: dialectic methods of thinking; dialectic materialism – PHILOSOPHY.

And also: The projection of the same system of things while creating concretely while giving form yields: ART.’

– Eisenstein – Dialectics and Film Form 1949

As I look out at the stair rod hailstorm that seems to have just started, and at the sheer richness of material gathered by Laura Bradley for our joint project on East German Theatre and its relationship with the state, I am wondering if there is a specific form of what we call “Verbatim Theatre” that can respond with clarity and justice to that material, and to the wider context of the history of the GDR.


Actor, director and playwright Manfred Karge.

Due to a health scare, I wasn’t in Germany to help conduct these interviews with luminaries like Manfred Karge and Maik Hamburger.

(I really wanted to MEET these guys…especially Karge, whose Conquest of the South Pole is one of my favourite modern plays from anywhere…)

But I wonder now if the deprivation of distance, if my encounter with their spoken words in the form of meticulously transcribed and translated testimony isn’t a bit of a gift.

Verbatim theatre is all about editorial logic. The dramatist doesn’t ‘write’ anything. Rather, he or she puts one thing beside another…paces material, reshapes it…in short we do what a film editor does when they collate and cut a pile of film footage…we create a master narrative out of the little stories people tell. And that master narrative needs to be arranged around a logic, an argument about what things mean when you put them all together.

So I am adding Sergei Eisenstein’s theory and practice of montage to the other ghosts I am summoning to help me work with this material.


Dramaturge, critic and translator Maik Hamburger.

What Laura and her team have gathered from their filmed and recorded interviews are, on the one hand, a bunch of theatre practioners sharing their memories and thoughts about the theatres they worked in 25 years and more ago, in the former GDR AND interviews conducted in Stasi prisons and interrogation centres.

What happens when you start cutting these things together? What does it mean to put stories about a favourite director beside an account of the physical dimensions of a holding cell?

Well, one starts to comment on the other…or rather, an audience looks at one thing beside the other and starts to make connections between the two.

What is implied by comfortable recollections being put beside very uncomfortable conditions? Are we supposed to think that the theatre people are fay, ridiculous creatures and the prison cell is ‘reality’? Well, we might start thinking that way…but if the material can be skilfully arranged..

Their very propinquity starts making a different argument; that both of these things were real and simultaneous; that the reality of each informs and enriches our ideas about the reality of the other.


Prison cell at Hohenschönhausen.

People pursued enjoyable careers in the theatre in the GDR. They were ironically aware of their own privilege…but also of their vulnerability. The reality of the prison cell always haunted the opening night parties. The prison cell, according to the authorities, protected the social goods of the theatre and its audience from the subversion and aggression of the enemies of the state.

So one might place a prison cell in Guantanamo besides opening night at the opera at Lincoln Centre or Glyndebourne…not to argue that one necessitates the other, or even implies the other…but that both are part of the same system, the same experience of modernity, the same tax and spend.

I think that is a dialectic worth exploring in the lost past of Actually Existing Socialism…and in our time and place too. I think that a verbatim presentation of the research, not rewritten by me, but tendentiously edited towards my interests, is a good first step. Both for its own sake, and for what it might yield in discussion with an audience, and with fellow theatre makers here in Scotland about the next stages of this project…which are designed to transcend the research, and to take us to places we haven’t really thought of yet.

Fun, isn’t it?

Food for thought: groceries, the Stasi, and verbatim theatre

Peter Arnott 2I am reviewing transcripts and translations of interviews my colleague Laura Bradley conducted before Christmas in Germany, and other than the envy and frustration of illness having prevented my being there, I am enormously grateful for the insights and testimony of Klaus Dieter Kirst from the Staatsschauspiel Dresden, Maik Hamburger from Berlin’s Deutsches Theater and Jessica Alcazar from the Stasi prison in Hohenschönhausen. Each is lucid and provocative. Each one of them is full of surprises, and as I’ve said before, surprise is a key principle of dramaturgy for me.

Kirst (see right), for example, talks about the particular diplomatic skills of artistic director Gerhard Wolfram and the paternalism he encouraged in party officials, the protection to be found in accepting the patronage and “guidance” of the powers that be, the privileges and pressures, that is, of running the Staatsschauspiel in Dresden as the Gorbachev era destabilised and encouraged the “loyal opposition” of many theatre people who felt personally invested in the aspirations of the “actually existing socialism” as it was called.

JESSICA STASI PRISON IN CELLThe apparent paradox is that the more specific one understands the situation in the GDR to have been, the more “local” its conditions, the more significant it seems. Vaclav Havel’s writings do give you what does seem to have been a general truth about the “East” – that it was recognition of reality that was the deepest thought-crime – and it was the flattering of the dreams of aging dictators that was the best route to success, but the particular conditions of particular times that Jessica Alcazar (see left) talks about on her “guided tour” of the Stasi’s prison … are most eloquent in their specificities of self-deception and terror.


Particularly hilarious, for example, is her story about the vans the Stasi used for covert arrests (see right). These were designed as grocery or fishmongers’ vehicles…and were besieged by people on the streets where they were parked who were wondering when the shops were going to get supplies in. One imagines being a prisoner listening while a secret policeman explains to an outraged Hausfrau that he is fresh out of mackerel.

Stasi corridorAnd this brings me back round to the dilemma I have about this project. How can I improve on the stories these voices tell. Reading these verbatim scripts I can absolutely see a way of making a piece of verbatim theatre…alternating theatrical anecdote with descriptions of jail cells, placing a letter from a director looking to work in the West beside a description of the ransom system that was used to raise state finance (knowing that the West German government would buy political prisoners…apparently the going rate by the end was 42000 Euro), I do think to myself “how can I improve on that”?

Of course, there are one or two ideas for scenes I get from these anecdotes…but if this project is about anything, for me, it is about going past the obvious, looking for the unexpected in the Cold War narrative.

So, final decisions about form seem premature to me. This project feels like I have to start with accumulation and edge gingerly towards a comprehensive final form. This is going to make everyone nervous, very much including me. But it feels like the best way to proceed.

That is, to prepare, for the first public workshops in April, a verbatim text taken from many sources…people talking about the past in the GDR. (It is, after all, now a generation ago). Second, I am thinking of some sub-Brechtian short play ideas…each one illustrating a surprising facet of life in the GDR as lived by citizens in and out of trouble, conscious and unconscious at the same time (in a very German way) of something being rotten in the state of Ulbricht.

And finally…finally…my own response…which I want NOT to plan or predict. Something very much of the present, in the present, for the present. It may be a play set in the dog days between the fall of the wall and the end of the state…a play set in a rehearsal room of a municipal theatre somewhere in the GDR in early 1990…but in a sense, I want to clear the decks of the Lives of Others, the Voices of Others…first! I want to orchestrate their testimony of the past before I testify for the present for myself.

This will be a process. And I’m fine with that. Part of the purpose of this research is to find out how best an artist can serve research…but it is also about research serving the artist. And not all lines, as one can tell from the stories I’m hearing, are straight.

Berlin 1961


Happy Christmas All….

Non-negotiable facts and the possibilities of theatre

Well, for one reason and another, the Berlin trip didn’t work out for me. Right now I was supposed to be back from Germany with a headful of interviews and Stasi sightseeing, instead of which, I’ve been going to the Southern General in Glasgow for a continuing series of tests…all this to prevent my becoming unwell rather than my actually becoming unwell…so it’s been a little frustrating if illustrative of a general and instructive point.

That no matter what regime you live under, there are certain non-negotiable facts of life to deal with. Family, health and money to name but three. And that though the experiences of bringing up children, having a health scare or earning a living are conditioned by political and social circumstances, there are also aspects of all of these things that are the same and comprehensible whatever your socio-historical paradigm.

Good thing too. It wouldn’t be possible to experience culture otherwise.

What I have managed to do in preparation for viewing the filmed interviews with writers, actors and directors, veterans all of the one country with two systems, which were the principle research matter of the trip, is to attempt a little more effective day dreaming about a possible structure and argument for “Ensemble”.

There is a thing I always say when I’m teaching, or attempting to teach, dramaturgy. Which is that plays, no matter when or where they are set, have to take place right here and now. In the present tense. That the context in which the event – the performance – happens, is at least as determinative of the meaning of that event as any amount of written words or rehearsed action within the performance itself.

Indeed, I am now old enough to have experienced a play of mine from 1985 revived in recent years, and the nature of the play had profoundly altered not because of anything that had happened to the text, but because of what had happened to the audience in the meantime.

What had happened, among other things, was that the Cold War had come to an end.

So what now, for me, in my particular circumstances, as a vaguely lefty playwright in Scotland of a certain age, is the present tense of a play about the past?

The answer, it turns out, is quite simple. I remain now, as I was in 1985, curious about what it is possible for theatre making to be.

At my most optimistic, I think of making a piece of theatre as a rehearsal for a better world. That here in this room as we work together, we can and should be honest. That this room we share is a safe place for truth. I think that everyone who works in theatre has, or ought to have, that feeling from time to time. I also know that the making of theatre takes place in the real world as well, that outside the walls of the rehearsal room, there are challenges from which the rehearsing of a better world is both a refuge and an attempt to intervene.

I think that even if this view is naïve, that a certain naïveté, or assumed innocence, is a practical necessity of making the work at all. We have to act “as if” we were honest, as if we had faith.

(I share with German Lutherans an enthusiasm for the works of St Paul)

I also know that there are forces at work in any rehearsal room at any time or place which are a damn sight less scrupulous than the necessary day dreaming allows.

What do the people who worked in theatre in the false paradise of the workers’ German State think about that? Do questions of personal honesty and professional integrity colour their memories? How were they affected at the time? What do they think about it now?

Those were my questions for the theatre makers. I was going to rudely enquire as to their individual states of moral self-worth as well as their relationship with the State of things both then…and now.

What does or might the making of theatre mean if you dream of a better world? I can’t think of a simpler question to ask in the present that might be illuminated by the past.

And luckily, I think I have just the working model for the conversations and experiments with which my thoughts so far can be tested.

I propose that a figure called “the philosopher” has brought together four theatre makers; an actor, an actress, a dramaturg and a theatre manager (artistic director would be the UK equivalent) to talk about the kind of theatre a philosopher might want to see. That the present tense of my play is an exploration of a dream of socialism compromised by mediocrity and corruption, and a dream of theatre and what part in history it can play. I want this to be a very personal meditation, but based, as Brecht-ophiles will surely recognise, on the Messingkauf Dialogues, an unfinished sub-Socratic dialogue Brecht worked on both in exile from Nazi Germany and on his “return” to the new DDR at the end of the forties.

Within this conversation, the actor and the actress will perform scenes that attempt to reproduce moments from the history of the East German state and the moral and political questions faced by theatre makers…as artists and as citizens. The model for these scenes is another Brecht play…Fear and Misery in the Third Reich…which is a series of mini plays showing different aspects of people’s experiences in Germany in the 1930s…

These scenes will be “tested” by the other participants. Can theatre tell the truth? What is the purpose of attempting to reproduce “reality”?

(Messingkauf” means buying the brass…ie…getting the raw material, the unvarnished, unmediated truth…)

These are questions asked by Brecht and others in the 20th century, in the midst of all its horrors and contradictions. What happens if we ask those questions now?

Effective Day-Dreaming

Peter Arnott 2“Effective Dreaming” is how the psychiatrist in Ursula Le Guin’s “Lathe of Heaven” describes the nightmares of his patient. The patient, Orr, believes that his dreams all come true, and subtly and terribly change the world in order to do so. This being a great science fiction novel, Orr turns out to be right.

“Effective Day Dreaming” is what I now tell myself I’m doing when to any independent observer I might appear to be staring out of the window with my mouth open.

Since our very successful and stimulating launch event at the Storytelling Centre a couple of weeks ago, I’ve both been soberly continuing to read and research…and secretly panicking that being able to talk a good game at a public discussion is not the same thing as being able to come up with a structure for a play that actually works. This disquiet was heightened by some of the responses I got at the party afterwards…people telling me how important it was that I testify to the experience of the Late Totalitarian Experience…and how connected they felt that our current security state and public nihilism are, in their minds, to that experience of the Cold War on the other side of the wall.

Among other things I’ve been reading Vaclav Havel’s essays written in the 1970s. His open letter to Dr Husak and “The Power of the Powerless” and thinking to myself, “My God this is so well written…this represents such depths of thought and feeling, what on earth do I think I’m DOING?”

It’s a very strange place to be when working on a new idea. It becomes almost a discipline in itself not to make decisions , not to find oneself spooked into committing oneself to characters or a situation prematurely, simply as a response to anxiety. This is true of every job, from adapting a novel with a cast size and stage language already established by precedent (as I did with Robin Jenkin’s “Cone-Gatherers” recently…) to something like this where I am faced with an embarrassment of possibilities.

Notoriously writers are haunted, like Ahab, by whiteness…not of the whale, but of the page. But white in both cases represents something like the infinite, hence its faceless, bottomless, non-negotiable horror. The setting down of any word on any blank sheet, like any actor walking onto any empty stage and performing any action, has the effect, among other things, of limiting the possibilities of what might happen next. Like any note in any musical score implies the next note…and then the next, so any word spoken or written, any action, implies its own setting , its own history and its own sequel. A perfect work of art, in the ear, on the page or on the stage is one in which one starts with infinite possibility that gradually narrows down to the moment when any other action or note would be superfluous, at which point the art ends…and at the same time becomes a made thing, an artefact.

Like at the beginning of Stingray, when Commander Shore announces that “Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour”, it is the mark of good art that the very first brushstroke goes as far as to contradicting the information content of such a statement as fully as it endorses its promise. A great opening…like at the beginning of Anna Karenina or Moby Dick may seem to be a promise of uncertainty and excitement, but in fact propels you directly into the centre of the matter to be explored. The very first thing a work of art has to do is to define its own limits.

It may well be that there are some writers who can genuinely write a first sentence, or have a character speak a first line with no very clear idea of what world that spoken or written word is propelling us into. I am assuredly not one of them. Additional to this complication is that I am currently caught between temptations. One aspect of the vanished world of Eastern European Theatre under the Communist Dictatorships that is positively a matter of nostalgic yearning among theatre makers of a certain age (this conformed by a brief chat I happened to have at the Citizens Theatre last week with Giles Havergal) is the fact that censorship, fear, constant surveillance and expectation of betrayal aside, there were some things about it that were pretty good…especially for those of us who interacted with it at a safe distance; the size and longevity of the ensemble companies; the seemingly infinite State Support that sustained a continuity and intensity of work on productions that in the right hands produced results of incomparable depth and richness. These seemed to those of us in the West who simply saw the shows performed by the Berliner Ensemble, or the Maly Theatre of Leningrad to be things of envy and wonder. We knew about the difficulties, of course, about the spies and the tribunals and the broken lives…but my God wasn’t that a TERRIFIC show?!

(There is something profoundly amoral and Darwinian about watching and making theatre, I think. You don’t care, or at least, not ALL of you cares what went into this…good or bad faith. A bit of you is either thrilled or not…in an entirely visceral, animal way. Plays are like sausages. Good or bad, you don’t really think about what went into them)

Part of me is tempted, then, to write a play that I might submit to such an ensemble as if such a thing still existed. But I know from my brief that a practical concern for how I, in Scotland right now, with whatever conditional access I may have to the means of theatrical production, distribution and exchange, might actually put a show on, or at least write a script that has a chance of being produced, is an important part of this project. This almost certainly means a cast of not more than five. The ensemble I want to write about is already to be indicated, rather than actual.

And so, for all my blank pieces of paper and daydreaming, the criterion of effectiveness has always to be on my mind…for all I might long for a moment like in the Maly Theatre’s production of Brothers and Sisters, the ghosts of the Red Army marched through the auditorium towards the Karelian village on stage…and their costumes were perfect, their marching immaculate…and they marched onto the stage and into the wings…and your heart stopped….because you had just seen the soldiers who were never coming home…

Unfortunately, we can never see that again, in St Petersburg or anywhere else. Such are the paradoxes. But such are the contradictions that can be explored in memories…and it may be that it is the paradoxes of memory, of the different meanings of the past…that my play “Ensemble” might be able to explore. Especially on our trip to Germany in December to explore some of those memories with the people whose memories they actually are.

Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me…I have some Vaclav Havel to think about while staring out of the window with my mouth open.