by Peter Handke translated by Michael Roloff.
Arch 6 Burrell Street SE1 0UN To 6 February 2011.
Wed-Sat 7.30pm Sun 5pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 1hr 50min One minute.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 January.
Modernist classic underneath the arches of theatrical Southwark is well worth a visit.
He wanted to be a horseman, like his father, was all young Kaspar Hauser could tell people who found him in 1828 Nuremburg. His story’s best-known through Werner Herzog’s 1974 film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. But seven years earlier playwright Peter Handke had reinvented Kaspar out of historical context to examine the relationship between identity and language.
Flopping about on unaccustomed limbs, in a black, flat-topped hat and coloured shirt with neat bow-tie, Ryan Kiggell’s Kaspar resembles a clown – maybe the serious-faced Buster Keaton in Samuel Beckett’s Film. He becomes entangled in a folding chair, not knowing it to be a chair. And, like a clown, Kaspar has no sense of past or future.
Then there’s language. Handke makes Kaspars single sentence more abstract: “I want to be someone like somebody else was once”. Kaspar tries the words out as if they’re a dramatic experiment, exploring how different tones and emphases change the impact, but fascinated by the differences in sound rather than having any sense of meaning. He reorders the phrases, like a young child playing with building blocks.
Soon voices prompt him, sometimes clashing with his own speech, and eventually imposing a sense of identity on him. In the shorter second act, as the socialised Kaspar speaks through a microphone, lecturing on his emergence into language, his figure recalls the final sighting of Harold Pinter’s Stanley in The Birthday Party, with its disjunction between the neatly-dressed figure and the lack of individual personality.
For Kaspar’s identity has split, a series of copycat Kaspar’s noisily unpacking brown-paper parcels then entering a crescendo of noisy objections, rejecting the conformist creation that speaks for them. Finally, like Shakespeare’s ‘Othello music’, language dissolves into Othello’s inchoate “Goats and monkeys” as the Kaspar cluster recedes towards oblivion.
Handke’s haunting play is aptly located within the stylistic ambiguity of a modern-glass-fronted room under a Southwark railway arch. And Kiggell is superb, the resonant vocal lower register varied to catch the script’s possibilities. Theatrical modernism at its most deeply felt, this Kaspar has a production and central performance to match its complexities and rewards.
Kaspar: Ryan Kiggell.
Prompters (live): Elisa Terran, Duncan Thomas.
Prompter (recorded): Anastasia Hille.
Other Kaspars: Kat Cooley, Marc Dodi, Genvieve Giron, Jo Leahy, Kassie Starkey, Lexi Bradburn.
Designer: George Moustakas.
Lighting: Anna Sbokou.
Sound: Helen Atkinson.
Movement: Jennifer Fletcher.
Dramaturg: Alexander Medem.