Flashback #7... in 1991, Free Theatre Christchurch connects with Free Theatre Munich to present Heiner Mueller's HAMLETMACHINE
... simply the most exciting theatre piece Christchurch has experienced in years... HAMLETMACHINE's opening night full house proves that Christchurch audiences do support serious theatre
If the 1980s had been about establishing a youthful, energetic presence in Christchurch, the 1990s saw exciting developments in Free Theatre's aims and growing influence. This included engaging with international contemporary performance artists and the founding of a dedicated Theatre and Film Studies Department (est. 1997) that unfettered the theory and practice of theatre and film from the traditional, marginalised existence in the literary dominated realm of English Departments. Canterbury University was the first in the country to do so and its Theatre and Film Studies Department quickly became successful with a rapidly growing postgraduate culture. This ultimately culminated in the emergence of the groundbreaking Te Puna Toi Performance Research Project in 2001.
While the company had engaged with past and current avant garde in the 1980s, it was perhaps a collaboration with Free Theatre Munich (est. 1970) in 1991 that really established the company as a noted presence in the international contemporary theatre scene. Falkenberg initiated the collaboration with this theatre company from his home town, inviting directors George Froscher and Kurt Bildstein to come to Christchurch to present a reimagined production of a Heiner Mueller work, HamletMachine. They had presented the work previously in Germany and the US. Mueller's work, considered the most important in Germany since Brecht, had never been staged in New Zealand, let alone Christchurch, and this offered the opportunity for local artists and the students of the growing Theatre Programme at Canterbury University to have access to international contemporary theatre through the making of it with established international theatre artists. On the strength of the international exchange, Free Theatre Christchurch secured an Arts Grant from the QE II Arts Council of New Zealand (later CreativeNZ). Remarkably, the company would not receive another CNZ grant until 2012 despite many years of trying with an extraordinary array of high profile, high quality work with a diversity of collaborators.
HamletMachine is typical of Mueller's work in that it is based around a collaging of texts and monologue's, rather than conventional narrative or plot. In this instance, the work is concerned with what it means to be an actor - a concern that Falkenberg would return to in different social, historical contexts, including current project How Not To Be Hamlet? A combination of professional actors and students worked on the HamletMachine production, which took place around the Arts Centre, in Rutherford's Den and the Great Hall. It was a hugely successful production both in popular and critical reviews and paved the way for a series of dynamic projects through the 1990s.
Below are some stills from a Nightline (TV3) piece on the production. The full clip itself can be found on the HamletMachine page.