On Stages: Understanding our plight as the outsider - The Post

On Stages: Understanding our plight as the outsider

She dares to taste the forbidden fruit (photo: HIT)
September 15th, 2019 6:00 am| by Ben Hamilton

Ever felt that as an expat you’re an outsider? No! Not a 50/1 shot in the Kentucky Derby – a person who does not belong. A bit like the Ugly Duckling, but you don’t swan off with a new family. Instead, you’re a foreigner everywhere.

Two new plays coming our way speak volumes about our experience as an outsider.

House of International Theatre’s The Clean House (Sep 19-Oct 6; Krudttønden, Serridslevvej 2, Cph Ø; tickets 175kr, teaterbilletter.dk) follows the story of Matilde, a Brazilian comedian who comes to America and works as a cleaning lady.

While That Theatre Company’s Look Back in Anger (Oct 26-Nov 23; Krudttønden; tickets 175kr, teaterbilletter.dk) introduces us to the struggles of Jimmy Porter, a disaffected working class man living in 1950s Britain.

At a time when the powers that be are doing their best to make as many of us as possible feel like outsiders, these plays couldn’t be better timed.

Expats need patience!
According to director Jeremy Thomas-Poulsen, Matilde’s arc in Sarah Ruhl’s touching comedy The Clean House, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize nominee, is ultimately an uplifting one – particularly if you feel like an outsider.

“She is out of place in current society, but through the play and the relationships she builds, she becomes the heroine of the story, perfectly suited for the task at hand,” enthuses Thomas-Poulsen.

“So, where she at first has no value to the society around her, she becomes a friend, sister, and confidant, and she affects the lives around her.”

It is, in short, the story of a typical expat’s life – providing we hang around long enough.

“Foreigners from all over the world travel to Denmark to attain a better life, make a home and build a family, but find it difficult to assimilate into a culture where they are not being fully appreciated and activated for the benefits they bring as outsiders,” continues Thomas-Poulsen.

Strong cast and schedule
Matilde is played by Isabel Escuerdo Zorde, a dance and movement instructor at Københavns Film & Teaterskole in what will be her HIT debut, but there are plenty of familiar faces onboard as well, including Jana Pulkrabek (recently in The Lover) from the tireless German dramatics group Manusarts, Vanessa Poole (Sonia in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) and Jens Blegaa (Henry Higgins in the CTC production of Pygmalion), who together with Thomas-Poulsen co-founded HIT’s resident group, Down the Rabbit Hole.

Of course, HIT had to clean its own house at Huset, but that hasn’t prevented it from announcing an exciting 2018-19 season full of promise.

In November, two plays are in the works. Up first is David Tristram’s Last Tango in Little Grimley, which will bring together Dawn Wall (Rita in Educating Rita), Gordon Torte and Dina Rosenheimer (Masha in VSMS) for what is a riotous comedy about an ailing theatre group resorting to sex to revive their flagging fortune.

And then later in the month, David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries (from Nov 27) is a one-man show that follows the exploits of somebody working as a festive elf in a New York department store, which Pulkrabek promises will deliver “gay holiday cheer”.

Next year continues in the same vein with a “sexy and dangerous version” of Old Times (from Jan 29), the final act in HIT’s Harold Pinter trilogy, two Italian guest performances in March – Bluff by Panda Project and Stil Belinda by PK-Rummet – and finally Anatomy of Murder in May.

Intuitive internationalisation
The choice of The Clean House is entwined in HIT’s mission to bring together the international theatre community.

“We are further expanding our international profile with the platform Move the North, a cross-border festival designed to create a dynamic cultural bridge between the cities of Hamburg, Copenhagen and Malmö,” contends Pulkrabek, the creator of the platform.

“Collaborating internationally will open up another multitude of possibilities for us to strengthen our international profile and create possibilities for the artists we work with to present and promote their work outside of Copenhagen.”

Could have been yesterday
Written half a century earlier is John Osborne’s seismic play Look Back in Anger – and perhaps it is no coincidence that That Theatre is staging the play in the aftermath of Brexit, a cataclysmic event often compared to the Suez Crisis in 1956.

“The day after Britain voted to Leave, I wrote on Facebook how especially disappointed I was for the younger generation that will never have the same opportunities that I had in being to travel and work freely around Europe,” reveals That Theatre’s artistic director Ian Burns.

“One of my mates replied that Britain had nothing to do with me anymore as I’d lived over here for so long.”

Burns goes onto explain that there are many themes in Osborne’s work that recalls the state of modern Britain today.

“The underlying blind faith that the working class seems to have for the elite astounds me. It might take the actual loss of the NHS to make people wake up,” he warns.

And while central character Jimmy Porter spends plenty of time grumbling about 1956, his list of gripes – hanging on to memories of being comfortable, secure, ordered and predictable – sounds all too familiar.

Bottom-heavy with talent
Nevertheless, Burns confesses that his main motivation for picking Look Back in Anger is that it is “a cracking love story across the class divide that I feel still resonates today”, which is “full of emotional intensity, real pleasures and real pains”.

Taking on the role of Jimmy is Søren Højen, an actor who impressed Burns in a recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream they both starred in alongside Alex Jespersen, who takes on the main female role, Alison.

After her success directing A Number last year, Helen Parry returns to take the helm again, allowing Burns to return to acting duties.

The critics did their best to make Osborne feel like he was an outsider when the play made its debut, with the BBC claiming the set was “unspeakably dirty and squalid” and that it was hard to “believe that a colonel’s daughter brought up with some standards” would live there. Ultimately, it concluded it was a “waste of time” watching it.

Kind of visit we all dread
Elsewhere, there are a number of other plays to look forward to over the rest of the 2018-19 season, with other projects soon to be revealed, no doubt.

Next month, the Copenhagen Theatre Circle presents Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Oct 9-12; Teaterøen, William Wains Gade 11, Refshaleøen, Cph K; tickets 150kr, place2book.com) – yet another caper for Baker Street’s finest.

The Crazy Christmas Cabaret (Nov 12-Jan 11; Tivoli Glassalen; tickets 185-400kr, teaterbilletter.dk) is switching its focus away from the US to the UK, although we’re sure there will still be room for a Donald Rump cameo in The Three Brexiteers.

Why Not Theatre Company’s next production isn’t until next spring. Dance with Me (Sep 19-Oct 6; Teatret ved Sorte Hest, Vesterbrogade 150, Frederiksberg; tickets 160-205kr, teaterbilletter.dk) is a one-person performance starring founder Sue Hanson-Styles.

While That Theatre’s late-winter production is The Visit (Feb 19-March 21; Krudttønden), a brand new play penned by Barry McKenna inspired by a house call paid by Hans Christian Andersen to Charles Dickens in 1857. He didn’t leave for six weeks!

As expats, we’ve all had visitors like that before!