A musical which promises to experiment with the boundaries of modern theatre is gearing up to open at Chelsea Theatre for a strictly limited run, 26 to 28 May 2016. It’s directed by Cathy Rosario, who had this to say about the piece:
What is particularly interesting about our musical is that it is based on the revolutionary visions of Ernst Toller, whose plays recently came out of copyright. He was a very influential figure in both politics and the theatre, but his career was cut short when he hung himself in 1939 in his room at the Mayflower Hotel in New York, which is famous for the writers and celebrities who lived there. Toller was depressed about his writing career and the rise of fascism, and feared for the safety of his brother and sister who were still in Germany. As Jews they were later murdered in concentration camps.
Strange Land tests the boundaries and the overlapping between expressionist theatre and the tradition of musicals. It is based on two revolutionary plays by the German expressionist Ernst Toller – Transformation and Masses and Men. For both, Toller drew closely on his life as a young Jewish man who went to fight in World War 1 and came back from its horrors as a pacifist and a communist revolutionary. Transformation is a forerunner to the iconic science fiction film Metropolis, directed by Frtiz Lang.
German expressionism in the theatre in the early part of the twentieth century was intimately tied to a revolutionary politics that downplayed the individual and focused on the power of the group. It rejected the idea that one person’s life has more value than another. This found its expression artistically in an epic structure that may have one character’s journey driving the play forward, but within that we are drawn into the intertwined worlds of many other characters, as the limelight shifts on to their lives. The sheer scale of what is shown, combined with staging and lighting that give external expression to inner turmoil, can transform a small stage into a vast, compelling landscape where the audience see their own world reflected back, distorted and yet familiar.
As a group, we have experimented with these expressionist techniques to create a dystopian fictional country at the beginning of the twentieth century where the young are forced to take a stand against the infectious violence and greed of the old order. It is in this country that Lea, an eighteen-year-old Jewish woman, lives on the edge of a city stripped of young men, who have left to fight in a great war. Desperate for adventure and romance, and to prove that she loves the Fatherland, she signs up as an army nurse. What happens to her at the eerie battlefront leads Lea back to the very city she has not long left. It is there that she makes the most chilling discoveries of all. The Fatherland reveals itself to be no noble country, but a nightmare land.
For interviews with six members of the cast, click the links below: