Monthly Archives: March 2020

Clear and present danger

Jonny Dymond recorded an interview with Lord Sumption, ex-Justice of the UK Supreme Court. The interview was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 World at One 30 March 2020. In it Lord Sumption expressed concerns about the potential impact on freedom and civil liberty in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. That edition of World at One can be accessed on BBC Sounds, and the interview itself is also available on YouTube:

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Fear and misery

While I was sorting through stuff in the house I came across another theatre poster, this time for The Fears and Miseries of the Third Reich by Bertolt Brecht.

The poster says August 2-7 but not what year. It must have been 1976 though as it was certainly around that time and August 2-7 in 1976 would have been a run of Monday to Saturday, which makes sense.

I remember we played to packed houses, but that wasn’t difficult as The Little Theatre Club auditorium only held about 50 people. Even though, that was during the 1976 heatwave, so it must have been quite cosy. Most evenings after whatever theatre performance was on there would be jazz, folk or blues until the small hours.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich Bertolt Brecht
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Fasten your seatbelts

A few weeks ago I was talking about the actress Elisabeth Bergner.

But I didn’t mention the curious link between her and the 1950 Academy Award winner All About Eve, starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter.

Elisabeth Bergner was born in 1897 in Drohobych, which is now in the Ukraine but was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her career began in Austria and Germany, but the Nazi takeover forced her to move to London in 1933.

Hans Rewald: Elisabeth Bergner
Hans Rewald: Portrait of Elisabeth Bergner, 1929
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More than the sum of its parts

I mentioned last time a parallel between two disparate things which seemed to me more than a coincidence. One was an example which Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka used to articulate his idea of the behavioural (as opposed to geographical) environment. The other was a fairly representative passage I remembered from when we were performing Peter Handke’s The Ride Across Lake Constance.

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Of chicks and cigar boxes

I was talking last time about the Lake Constance legend, Gestalt psychology, optical illusions, and the Jastrow Illusion in particular.

Most people see the lower arch as bigger than the upper one.

But apparently it’s not just people.

Jastrow illusion
Jastrow illusion
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Plain to See

A few weeks ago I wrote about Peter Handke’s play The Ride across Lake Constance, and the legend it got its title from.

Serendipitously I came across another reference to this legend in a book by Kurt Koffka, one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. In The Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935) he uses it to distinguish between what he calls the ‘geographical environment’ and the ‘behavioural environment’:

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A Nazi drama in seven characters: Act 3

We looked last time at one ‘character’ from Peter Handke‘s The Ride Across Lake Constance who escaped the Nazi regime and one who didn’t manage to.

To complete the seven we now look at an Austrian actor who portrayed Nazis from the safety of Hollywood, and two twins who were born in Nazi Germany.

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A Nazi drama in seven characters: Act 1

We mentioned last time that in Peter Handke‘s The Ride Across Lake Constance the actors do not play characters as such. Instead they ‘are and play themselves at one and the same time’.

To avoid calling them ‘Actor A’, ‘Actor B’ and so on in the published text Handke names the parts after well-known actors. The dramatis personae therefore reads like a who’s who (or wer ist wer?) of 20th Century Germanic cinema, with all that that entails:

Emil Jannings
Heinrich George
Elisabeth Bergner
Henny Porten
Erich von Stroheim
Alice and Ellen Kessler

More on the first two below.

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Ride around Lake Constance

Our subject last time was the legend of the ride across Lake Constance. But why did Peter Handke name his play after it?

Not an easy question, as in many respects the play seems incomprehensible. I remember being quite bewildered when we performed it. Any attempt to summarise the plot hits an immediate obstacle in that there is hardly any plot to summarise.

Instead you get occasional patches of apparent clarity which, just as in a dream, seem to change into something entirely different, with an entirely different meaning. Sorry – apparent meaning.

Peter Handke
Peter Handke in 2006
(Wild + Team Agentur – UNI Salzburg)
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