Kaspar

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4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Avant-garde Austrian writer Peter Handke is rarely staged in London: partly because his plays demand such contrapuntal feats of speaking and miming; mostly because they sound like Beckett but without the jokes. His first major play, ‘Kaspar’, begins with a Chaplinesque chap saying, ‘I want to be someone like somebody else was once.’ It’s hard to do and hard to sell – so it’s great to see talented young collective Aya Theatre pop up in a Southwark office and animate ‘Kaspar’ with skill, imagination and an ingenious wraparound audio soundscape.

Ryan Kiggell’s Kaspar clambers out from a square of light then pratfalls around with a face as blank as a computer screen. Handke’s play is abstracted from the true story of a boy who claimed to have spent his childhood in total isolation. But it’s impersonal. It investigates the interface between speaking and becoming: everyone’s long-forgotten first encounter with the world. Kiggell is a subtle, technology-age Kaspar: he tries out different pitches, speeds, rhythms and attitudes like a robot learning to speak. In a performance which initially has the same relationship to human personality as keyboard demos do to music, styles are discernable, soul is not, and every sentence is sampled from the rulebook on social conformity.

Aya Theatre’s production is and uneven at times, but it builds and delivers Handke’s exhilarating counterpoint of broken sentences and false logic (‘A cat is not progress’, ‘Running away is not equality’). Kiggell’s Kaspar is gradually normalised by live and recorded ‘Prompters’, who surround him with instructive clichés. By the end he’s human and has acquired a bunch of disgruntled inner selves (embodied by six actors) who yowl and clamour behind him while he delivers a charmingly urbane retrospective on the whole process.

As you can hear clearly here, Handke is the Bach of contemporary theatre: he breaks the vicious spiral of life down into its base pairs (thinking, speaking; acting, being) then makes something like music out of the bits. Caroline McGinn

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