In conversation with Ivan Panteleev

Ivan Panteleev’s production of Waiting For Godot* is among the 10 ‘most remarkable’ 2014 productions and fittingly has been awarded the Theatertreffen prize. We met after Premiere performance at the Deutsches Theatre Berlin.

What are the main challenges to a director undertaking Becket’s Waiting For Godot?

Probably it is simply the play itself. Beckett’s speech is like an insect imbedded in amber. You can observe it and admire it, but you can’t touch it. And that’s what we are looking for – to touch something/somebody and to be touch from something/somebody. That’s the difference between text as a reading and text as an experience on the stage. So, the challenge is to transform the text via speech into body experience (in a play almost without action) and to do so not only for the actors, but as well for the audience. Naturally without changing something in the text. It is strictly forbidden, as you know. And it is not necessary to do it. Not at all. But it takes time to recognize this.

To what extend the stage and costume designer, here Mark Lammert, impact the direction of the play?

Mark Lammerts space brought some very clear esthetical as well as physical rules. And the actors had to deal with them during the rehearsals, and forward now by every single show. In one of the first talk we had he described the oblique platform and the funnel in the middle of it as a gag- machine His idea goes back to a postcard from Oktoberfest in Munich, which Karl Valentin sent to Samuel Beckett in the 30es. On the picture is a spinning disk and people fallowing down or climbing up to the edge of the carousel. It looks funny. As Beckett says: Nothing is funnier but the misfortune. Nevertheless, the space from Mark Lammert has a very strong esthetical aspect. So my approach was the same like to the play – no sense to just admire it. Better use it, but don’t abuse it. It was not easy to deal with a space that describes itself trough the absence of a centre, but I noticed quit soon all the difficulties challenged us to get resourceful or inventive.

Dimiter Gotscheff designed the original space, but it died soon after. The original stage has been maintained. Any ideas why he elected this design?

There is a book by Pierre Temkine called “Waiting for Godot. The Absurd and The Histoy”. The authors develop on the basis of quotations from the play and historical researches a theory, which prove that the two characters Vladimir and Estragon are Jews during the II World War, who are waiting for the smuggler, who is to save them: some Godot. I know that Gotscheff was very much impressed by the book and it shaped his perception of the play. After he passed away in October 2013, and the task to stage the play was given to me I had to find out my own approach. I had less then half a year to prepare myself, and the pressure was enormous. For me was very important that Vladimir and Estragon are not victims, and that their waiting of someone who doesn’t come, not today, not tomorrow and not even 60 years latter, stands for liberation and affirmative try to attempt the impossibility.

To be free means not to have all the possibilities. It means to crossover the space of the possibilities in order to be ready for the impossible; and this is what art has to do – to wish, to crave and to desire the impossible.

Such cases (Vladimir & Estragon) don’t enter the political history. They are an object of the philosophy, and in best case an object of the history of art. And of course this is a political statement. Especially today.

How do you balance your interpretation of the play and that of the dramaturge? What was Claus Caesar, the dramaturge, input to this production?

The dramaturge in Theatres doesn’t have the function of supervisor. He or she supplies the director, the stage designer and the actors with literary, historical, political, philosophical ect researches. He or she offers a comparative knowledge about the readings context – then and now. It was the third production I did with Claus Caesar together, and I appreciate the work with him very much. He comes to almost every rehearsal and tries to look critical of the work, as a spectator, who doesn’t know the purpose of what we do, just trying to get it from what he sees. At the end of the rehearsal he gives us a feedback. Then, if necessary, we look for strategic changes together in purpose to reach the point we have aimed. If not we just have a bier or two. As soon as the rehearsals begin there are not anymore precise division of the work, as we know it from the industry for instance. IT IS THE PROCESS AND NOT THE PRODUCT THAT FASCINATE ME IN THEATRE. What I do is to indicate different options and keep a free space for contradictions. But certainly these are the actors who do the main job and they have the biggest influence on me during the rehearsals. I trust my actors. And I have a damn good reason to do it.

What the Theatretreffen prize means to him.

It is always nice when the work we have done get appreciation. Isn’t it?

Future plans?

At the end of September I will have an opening with “Peer Gynt” by Ibsen with Samuel Finzi uand Margit Bendokat again at Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Than I am going to stage “Philoktet” by Heiner Müller at Residenz Theatre in Munich and in March 2016 I will have an opening with “The Physicists” by Durrenmatt again in Berlin.

*Warten auf Godot (Waiting for Godot)

By Samuel Beckett

German translation Elmar Tophoven

Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen / Deutsches Theater, Berlin

Directed by Ivan Panteleev

Stage and costume design – Mark Lammert

Dramaturgy – Claus Caesar

Estragon – Wolfram Koch

Wladimir – Samuel Finzi

Lucky – Andreas Döhler

Pozzo – Christian Grashof

A boy – Andreas Döhler