By Peter Boenisch
256 pp. Manchester University Press
Reviewed by George Rodosthenous* (UK)
Since 2010, numerous books have appeared on Theatre Directing: some of them are directing manuals for young professionals and others are personal accounts of directors attempting to articulate their process. There are five books, though, which deal in depth with certain aspects of the directorial process: Avra Sidiropoulou’s Authoring Performance: the Director in Contemporary Theatre (Palgrave, 2011) concentrates on Auteurship, Patrice Pavis’ Contemporary Mise en Scène: Staging Theatre Today (Routledge, 2012) presents a series of pre-published seminal essays on the notion of the mise-en-scène, Simon Shepherd’s Direction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) offers a comprehensive academic study on a range of directorial practices and Duska Radosavljević’s Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) develops the notion of theatre-making; staging a play, devising and adaptation.
The latest and fifth addition to the list is Peter Boenisch’s Directing Scenes and Senses: The Thinking of the Regie (Manchester University Press, 2015)—a rich and multi-layered tome focusing on European theatre and Continental philosophy.
Boenisch makes it clear from the beginning that ‘[f]rom a Continental theatre perspective . . . it has become utterly unimaginable that one would not break free from the authority of the text, not rethink the play afresh with every new reading and not ‘make a performance’ of the text with each new production” (3).
The book distinguishes between mise-en-scène and mise-en-sens, and proposes a “triangular constellation” which links Direction, mise-en-scène and Regie. For him, Direction “captures the practical aspect of putting a playtext on stage and mounting a production” (189), while “Mise en Scène is an analytic concept which expresses the dynamic process of emitting and reading the playtext on stage” (190).
He understands Regie as “an aesthetic concept, in the full sense of Ranciere’s use of this term. It is both historically associated with the aesthetic regime of arts and it engages with the aesthetic level of the sensible” (190).
The book is divided in two Parts—the first one deals with “Mise en scène to Mise en sens: Towards an Aesthetic Politics of Regie” and gives a historical contextualization of the term since 1920s; it then combines the thinking of Adorno, Hegel, Munz and Schramm. Next, Schiller’s ideas are associated with theatre as a dialectic and moral institution highlighting the politicity of Regie. Part I ends with a presentation of Jessner and his directorial innovations.
The second Part of the study “The Theatral Appearing of Ideas: Regie in Contemporary European Theatre” concentrates on contemporary European directors and explores issues of truth, ex-position and dissecting the text. “The notion of the ‘truth of a playtext’ makes sense only when it is thought within such a framework of ex-position, which asserts that this truth is inevitably our truth” (115).
The work of some important directors of the 21st century are presented and their “central working methods, creative strategies and aesthetic principles” are explored in the consequent three chapters. tg STAN’s work aims to capture the reality of theatre while Kriegenburg focuses on spaces and bodies creating an “emotional response of an audience to generate the full affective intensity that is at the heart of his Regie” (137).
Intermediality and the relationship of character, spectator, public and performer are investigated in relation to the work of Ivo van Hove and his insistence on “realistic portrayal of characters” (150). Cassier’s “multi-sensual,” media and image-based Regie creates work which shifts our spectatorial position.
As Boenisch suggests, “[a]s spectators, we are here no longer positioned as observers or even voyeurs opposite a text and a fiction that, as it were, happens without us, and we remain ‘unseen.’ The opposite is the case” (158).
Castorf and Ostermeir are the two final case studies. Here, it is proposed that Regie becomes a “dialectic mediation of both the playtext and of the material and ideological conditions of our reality” (184): for the former, a negation and, for the latter, “a negation of the negation” (184). Boenish intriguingly claims that Regie does not mess up “the authorial privilege of the playwright, but the very order of the sensible, precisely in its refusal to ‘orderly’ represent, illustrate and to thus play by the rules of the established hegemonic aesthetico-political order of things, affirming its easy, comfortable and alluring clichés of thinking” (186).
The monograph finishes with an “Afterthought,” where the author speculates about the future of Regie and gives his understanding of the notion of Regie:
Against the boredom, the apathy and the empathy deficit spread by the homogenized media imaginary of semiocapitalism and the dictates of its symbolic order, such dialectic critical activity of recognizing the object play in its full contradictory ambiguities as our own construction, as inevitably connected to our subjective activity (and responsibility) of spectating, relating and engaging invite us to try out, in the act of play, a different relation to the world and to its dominant institutions and ideologies: hence to play a different “partition of the sensible.” (193)
Some of the writing is dense and perhaps would estrange the undergraduate readers studying Theatre Directing or Contemporary Performance or Theatre and Performance courses around the world. However, the choice and range of examples is remarkably expansive and multifaceted. The work of some of the practitioners discussed is not yet readily available to (British) audiences, so the case studies succeed in introducing the inner workings of their theatrical “machinery” and “imagination.”
The volume makes some acute observations about Regie and its impact on the spectatorial and “response-ability” aspect of the theatrical exchange and has something to offer for every theatre director. It contributes a wealth of insights to the emerging academic area of Directorial analysis and provides invaluable material related to the thinking, perspectives and aesthetic politics of contemporary Regie.
*George Rodosthenous is Associate Professor in Theatre Directing at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries of the University of Leeds. He has edited Theatre as Voyeurism: The Pleasures of Watching (Palgrave), Contemporary Adaptations of Greek Tragedy: Auteurship and Directorial Visions (Methuen Bloomsbury), and he is currently editing The Disney Musical on Stage and Screen: Critical Approaches from Snow White to Frozen (Methuen Bloomsbury).