top of page

'Michael Kohlhaas' presented by Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre

Played at the BMO Studio Theatre, Saint John, New Brunswick

Courtesy of Saint John Theatre Company

Aaron Kropf

After many delays, Germany’s Gerhart Hauptmann Theatre in Germany arrived in Saint John and presented their stunning production of Michael Kohlhaas. This show is based on the novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist. This is a bare bones production, breathing new life into an centuries old text.

Loosely based on a true story of a horse trader who is done wrong by nobility in Saxony, the titular character does everything he can to right the wrong done. He wanted his horses returned to him in the same state they were left. Kohlhaas takes to the courts and seeks help from other nobles. When he fails in these attempts he raises a mob which commits murder and burns down cities.
‘Kohlhaas’ is one of those folk hero stories that many places have. The script pushes the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in bringing about end goals. The story of Michael Kohlhaas has many of the same characteristics of these other stories. Ultimately it asks the question: “Has Kohlhaas gone too far?”

Walking into the theatre the room is draped all in white. The stage is covered in a white canvas with large streaks of red, symbolizing the blood that has been shed. Centre stage is a black saddle, which passes between the company of seven. The stark look of the set and the theatre space are reflected back by the various characters in the story. Because this is a German company presenting the story, surtitles were displayed on three of the four sides of the theatre. The use of surtitles was an important decision and choice. It was easier to watch both what is going on stage and read the text regardless of where the action is taking place.

The minimalist approach to this production is what really makes it shine! The company wearing black suits, white shirts, and grey and black suspenders which becomes a striking contrast visual look against the red and white covering the space. There are few defined roles as the company rotates and takes on different characters throughout the production.
Nevertheless, since I relied on the surtitles and rotation of roles, there were a few moments I wasn’t clear who was who. It’s a quibble, but I want to acknowledge each member in the company were strong. When not part of the story they remained on the side of the stage and did not draw attention away. It’s difficult to be on stage for an hour and a half and keep up the energy required, but this company maintained their intense energy from beginning to end.

It’s unfortunate that Michael Kohlhaas was here for such a short time. This is the type of theatre that many North Americans might not be familiar with, or have seen before. This is a third German production for me, one at the Stratford Festival, the second was a Shakespearean production that was part of an international Shakespeare festival that happened in South Korea. Each of these productions was similar in style, and intensity. It was really exciting to be thrust into a story presented in a unique way.
I only wish more people in Saint John and across Canada would have had the opportunity to experience this show.

Abstract Building
Black on Transparent_edited.png
bottom of page