Kaspar by Peter Handke ~ aya theatre

Aya Theatre presents


by Peter Handke


Show Starts 7.30pm Matinee Starts 2.30pm & 5pm
Running Time 90 minutes Price £10/£8 conc.

Publicity Image: Kaspar

Kaspar Hauser was a mysterious figure who was discovered in a German town square. He could speak only one sentence. Later, it emerged that he had spent his childhood in a dark room, cut off from human contact. He was taken in, taught how to speak, how to be a regular member of society.

Handke re-imagines Kaspar today; an absurd man formed and deformed through his violent exposure to the language of our society – the language of adspeak, corporate phrases and sports platitudes. In this remarkably inventive play, ideas about received speech, conformism and the corruption of the individual are exploded into bizarre and fascinating vocal rhythms and stage images.

Peter Handke is an Austrian playwright whose work has been described as ‘the most strikingly original of all post-war European writing’ (The Times)

This production, supported by Southwark Playhouse, filters Handke’s work through the vapid, sterile spaces of a vast, glass-fronted railway arch on Bankside, near the Tate Modern.

Creative Team

Designer ~ George Moustakas

Dramaturg ~ Alexander Medem

Sound Designer ~ Helen Atkinson

Lighting Designer ~ Anna Sbokou


Kaspar ~ Ryan Kiggell

Prompters (live) ~ Elisa Terren & Duncan Thomas

Prompter (recorded) ~ Anastasia Hille

Other Kaspars ~ Kat Cooley / Marc Dodi / Genvieve Giron / Jo Leahy / Kassie Starkey / Lexi Bradburn

Friday 21st January 2011
Kaspar by Peter Handke

Handke’s words are dense and densely layered in this wonderful play, and this for me is it’s great virtue. There is the possibility of being saturated in a torrent of words, words over words, words undoing the words that came before them, words driving out and on and under the words they push on to. Right from the start when we hear Kaspar’s one sentence over-repeated: “I wish I was someone like somebody else was once.” And it’s theme is embodied in it’s material: that words have the power to destroy us and leave us derelict and meaningless. And so for me I would have preferred a less physically performed beginning – the clowning ‘learning to walk’ (or ‘foal finding it’s new legs’ as Lynn Gardner had it) was both too literal, as well as forcing an unequal competition with the anguish and sonic escalation of the sound, and in this battle the visual will always win our greatest conscious attention. I have since discovered that Handke has prescribed 7 sequences of physical performance so this is loyal to the text, but the first act, begun thus, failed to get me through this too arresting opening and the subsequent ‘discovery’ of the furniture and an eventual eloquence left me alternating too much through the first half between sitting back in critical observation and a drowsy kind of boredom, despite the immense presence of Ryan Kiggell in the central Kaspar role. Too much to be asked to admire and be impressed by, and then not quite impressive enough.

The corporate-bland archway-redevelopment waiting for it’s new tenancy that provided this pop-up theatre gave exactly the right kind of banal dehumanising non-space with wonderful disappearing sight-lines off to a horizon of beige coloured carpet meeting straw coloured walls, and I enjoyed the stark spinal contrast of the stripped back skeletal furniture (marred by the wardrobe that was wrongly too much veneer). And the old fashioned costuming was both too out of place with the real place we were in and too much the look of the clown (again, and again i have since read this is true to Handke’s intentions). But the microphones on their stands were fiercely potent. One waiting in the wings for its later appearance in the second half, the other two at full attention each side as sentries in front of their tables in front of their performers (the live Prompts), giving their voices full throttle eloquence. And of these two Elisa Terren got the poetry of the writing completely right so that her rhythms and inflexions freed out a full array of meanings and associations from their linguistic stitching.

It was in the second half, with the third microphone in centre stage full throat command for the now spot-lit oratorial Kaspar, that this show really flew for me. The nakedness of the pubic speaker (or solo performer, speech maker, testimony giver, torch singer…), the vulnerable stumbler publicly forced to find his voice and meanwhile revealing too much of everything he tries to hide. There was so much room to enter the performance now and my thoughts and feelings flooded with and out of and over the mounting tsunami of words, phrases, meanings losing their meanings under the weight of their messages. The easy sure quick judgements we can make – we do make – the moment a person stands before us in presentation position. Now the words sing and hurt and discord and cry and break. And I am intensely and immensely moved.

Of course, even if Handke had allowed this framing throughout the whole piece, it probably wouldn’t sustain this public address formulation for full 105minutes duration.

Would it?

Could it???

And be (more) interesting?

Helen Atkinson’s interval soundscape of nearly-heard nearly-recognised mostly-male voices declaiming, decrying, postulating, pontificating and blustering we could imagine with great self-importance – fat heavy words being made to support fat heavy declarations by men who would have too much influence and too little care for the lives they were inflicting their fat heavy sentences on.

(This sound is described by Handke for the interval: ‘…tapes of the prompters’ speeches, sheer noise, actual taped speeches by party leaders, popes, public speakers of every kind, presidents and prime ministers, perhaps even statements by writers and poets at official functions. the sentences should never be complete, but complemented and superseded by other mangled sentences…’)

Also brilliantly realised in the second part was the chorus of other Kaspars, from their clowning hostile occupation of a too-small bench, to their clawing and ripping into sonic crunches and crumplings their brown paper packages, to their animal wailings and bayings, to their fevered attempts to occupy the limelight space of the spotlight in front of the microphone – an aurally anarchic choir that was equally exhilarating and distressing.

This production is honest and vital and brave and confident. It is a special treat to have Handke so well realised. It has inspired my own performance making in all sorts of ways for which I am excited and grateful: an idea for a new pre-show soundscape of male voices speechmakers for white man’s burden to replace the right-sense-of-noise wrong-sense-of-place traffic sounds we have had before; and a renewed excitement to stretch the limits of the lecture as a framing for performance, particularly in connection with different kinds of microphone objects.

And inspirational too how rich and fertile it can be for the ear and the mind to have language used as music – discordant, orchestral, dissonant and anguished.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

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