“Boy with a Suitcase” at the Schauburg (2)
by Katharina Ortner (2002) Gisela-Gymnasium, München / Germany on 2019-10-06
Review of an Indo-German Theater Coproduction
“Boy with a suitcase”, created by the British author Mike Kenny in 2009, is a play about a boy on the run and was premiered in Germany and India in 2011. It has since been performed all over the world by the same group of actors: the cast is part of an Indian-German co-production under the leadership of Andrea Gronemeyer, current director of the “Schauburg” Theater in Munich, Germany. The performance of the play in Munich, following a series of workshops and collaborations titled “Flucht & Heimat” (“Escape & Home”), was one of the highlights of trait d’union’s and the k25 theater’s cooperation with the “Schauburg” and the Ranga Shankara Theater from Bangalore/India.
The story follows a young boy, Naz, on the run from war. He flees together with his parents, who later spend all of their money on a trafficker to get their son out of the war zone. On the bus he meets Krisia, a child like him - on the run. Together they try to make it to England, where his sister and Krisia’s uncle live. In the course of their journey they are separated, beaten and abused. Finally, they both, although separately, arrive in London, their supposed land of milk and honey, though they soon realize that life in England is not at all as they imagined it to. People aren`t happy to see them, they aren`t welcomed with open arms. Despite the seemingly unhappy ending, the play closes on a hopeful note with the – albeit short – reunion of Naz and Krisia.
The play is staged using minimal props and with actors playing multiple roles. The part of Naz is split into two parts, an older, story-telling Naz, played by David Benito García, and a younger Naz, portrayed by B.V. Shrunga, who reenacts the story of his escape from war, alienating the audience from the action, giving them an “outside” view. The other actors, Simone Oswald, Nikolai Jegorow, M.D. Pallavi, play multiple roles, switching from mother to kind, old woman, or from loving father to human trafficker, making it hard to identify any one actor with a single role, except maybe for Nikolai Jegorow, who, with the exception of the role of the father, predominantly plays scumbag or down-right evil characters, though he does so brilliantly. This interchangeability of characters and actors creates a further anonymity of the subjects and the subject matter, showing that they could be anyone.
Throughout the play, there are very little to virtually no props present on stage, with the few that are, rectangular, wooden box contraptions, acting not as a single, but as multiple different objects, enriching the story-telling as ships, beds, houses and cars. The rest of the “props” normally used to depict setting and action are substituted by music, provided by the musicians Coordt Linke, Konarak Reddy and M.D. Pallavi Arun, a percussionist, a guitarist and a singer. They manage to breathe even more life into the story and make the emotions even more real and tangible. The music touches your soul, letting you believe you are immersed in the story, despite the alienating and distancing methods used during the play.
One of the goals of Mrs. Gronemeyer was to have the country of origin and the cultural background of Naz be a mystery, so that his story may be universal and not dragged down and interpreted any one way by preconceptions of refugees and current political issues, linked to certain geographical areas. This effect is achieved beautifully by having the actors talk and sing in various languages, such as German, English and Kannada. It creates a harmonious blend of culture, bringing different aspects of the respective cultures to the table.
This generalization of an experience or issue, reminds one of the “Epic Theater” developed by Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator, which aimed to move away from the depiction of the lives and struggles of a single person in favor of depicting complex and cohesive scenarios, depicting them in such a way as to make it understandable for everybody. A common trope that aids in doing so is having a narrator such as Naz, who does not address the other characters in the play, but the audience, thus acting as a guide in this fictional world.
In my opinion, “Boy with a Suitcase” is a great example of epic theater and skillfully captivates the viewers, moves them with just the bare necessities on stage, thanks to a brilliant and talented cast, gifted musicians and a phenomenal director.