Shakespeare in underpants, is how Peter Stein has described the work of fellow director and rival Peter Zadek, while the latter has called Stein's work boring and overly polished to the point that his actors become overcooked vegetables (Patterson 132, 168). Both German stage directors, these two men share an affinity for Shakespeare but little else, and, as a result, their approach to the Bard could not be more disparate. At the most basic level, Stein emphasizes the textual and historical aspects of Shakespeare while Zadek focuses primarily on imagery; Stein works to construct Shakespeare where Zadek looks to destruct it. Despite their immense differences, or perhaps because of them, both directors have made significant contributions to audience perceptions and interpretations of Shakespeare, and, in the realm of theater, they are still considered revolutionary trailblazers of the tempestuous 60s and 70s.
[...] Wanting to prepare for an eventual Shakespeare performance, the entire ensemble began familiarizing itself with the history, writing, and skills of the Elizabethan period, order rediscover the world which Shakespeare inhabited and so understand the social and cultural forces that shaped his writing'” (qtd. in Hortmann 270). Nearly five years later, the fruits of their labor could be witnessed in a seven-hour show, Shakespeare's Memory—Pictures and Texts; the theatrical event, described in great detail by Peter Lackner, was a culmination of the extensive research the company had done individually and as a whole. [...]
[...] Educated and trained in England, he lacks the reverence that most German directors have for Shakespeare and claims that his experience at Oxford University working under Nevill Coghill taught him that the most liberating approach to Shakespeare is an unconventional one (Zadek 107). Returning to his homeland in 1958, he began raising eyebrows almost immediately, but it was not until a particularly unorthodox production of Henry staged in Bremen in 1964, that he really took the German theater by storm. [...]
[...] Certainly it is impossible to reach a definitive conclusion as to whose approach to Shakespeare is more valid, Stein or Zadek's; even to attempt to do so would be difficult as each arbiter would choose the director who most matched his/her own inclination and taste. That said, it is possible to note the strengths and weaknesses of both directors' methods. Where Stein is highly organized and precise, Zadek is chaotic and random; where the former is accurate and cerebral, the latter is visceral and physical. [...]
[...] One of the best examples of Zadek's commitment to taking Shakespeare to the absolute extreme in order to evoke a genuine reaction is Othello, where some of the “utter extreme” rehearsals made their way into the performance itself. This production, done in Hamburg in 1977, was the zenith of his work up to that point, and it proved just how good Zadek can be when his excessiveness stems from an organic process rather than a formula. In this version of Othello, every character wore multiple masks and no one went unscathed for it. [...]
[...] It is exactly this viewpoint that, in contrast to Zadek's belief that Shakespeare is a diving board into improvisation, puts the two directors and their work at such odds with each other. On the path to Shakespeare, Stein took on Brecht's In the Jungle of the Cities, Schiller's Love and Intrigue, Weiss's Vietnam Discourse and, most significantly, Goethe's Torquato Tasso. The latter production, put on in Bremen in 1969, was the director's most ambitious up to that point and also his first foray into the major classics. [...]
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