Review: PBERG, King’s Head Theatre

Prenzlauer Berg Players presents Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare brings a raucous energy to the King’s Head Theatre

“Changing Verona to Berlin is preposterous”

From the minute you walk into PBERG to see rival foodcarts branded with Montague Mettwurst and Capulet Currywurst, then you know that this isn’t going to be your regular take on Romeo and Juliet. For to give it its full title, this is Prenzlauer Berg Players presents Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, written by Henry Barker and performed by a troupe of East 15 final year students.

The Prenzlauer Berg Players are indeed presenting Romeo and Juliet but the year is 1987 and we’re in the German Democratic Republic, so the shadow of the East German authorities is looming large over the rehearsal room. When a knock on the door turns that shadow into flesh in the form of the multi-layered Herr Kreuger, the very act of creative expression slams up hard against government censorship and yet somehow, possibly, it might still manage to find a way.

It’s tempting to see common themes to Sam Holcroft’s recent A Mirror echoing here, a similar ingenuity at play in the pursuit of artistic endeavour in the face of authoritarian oppression. PBERG is essentially much wackier at heart though, Lily Aylward’s direction having lots of fun whether in Kreuger’s disrobing (a highly amusing August Janklow), the pricking of actorly egos (Barker’s Lukas willing to forgive the enemy for the sake of a good review) or the tootling clarinet.

Without wishing to give too much away, the play has plenty to say about the depth of contemporary queer relationships and what had to be endured to live with even a modicum of openness – Ethan Emery and Alexander Gallimore both compelling in this regard. And for all Janklow’s humour, there’s something deeply thought-provoking about the interceding role he (and his government) thinks he must play to make this art suitable for an audience. As the publicity says, PBERG absolutely isn’t “a metaphor for anything else at all…”, not one tiny-little-Tory-arts-cuts-Arts-Council-muzzling little bit.

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