London in Paintings – Donmar Warehouse’s Versailles

Donmar Warehouse's Versailles

Though London: From Berlin with Love, the art attack on Regent’s Park, has its place in the framework of my WWI based art project, the Great War theme running through my London trip happened by chance. From turning on Warhorse after we returned from our first visit at Ginger and White after my arrival to Lest We Forget of the National Ballet – it was not like we consciously looked for something war-related to do or see. And so, buying tickets for Versailles was less about that particular play and more about the fact that it was a Donmar Warehouse production.

It was back in the beginning of this year that National Theater Live brought the Coriolanus, another Donmar Warehouse production, to ‘my’ movie theater at Potsdamer Platz. I sat next to two very lovely expat British ladies, who shared their smuggled in sparkling wine with me, while I convinced them to try my equally smuggled in White Chocolate and Mint M&Ms – we are such rebels – and  I watched on with wonder, how the brilliant actors turned the unusual stage into a viable character pivotal for the success of the play. The actors faced off in duels or gang vs. gang with the stage that is built to reach like a tongue into the audience becoming an arena and the wall behind it the scoreboard. Like in a good run for Lord Stanley or the FA Cup the lead changed constantly – oh well, Coriolanus could have my voice any day, but that’s another story – and sympathies swayed back and forth. You waited for cheers to start from the ranks, swelling and shrinking with the change of the tides. The whole room filled up to bursting with energy until it spilled over, even into a faraway movie theater. It was released in tears and standing ovations.

I was convinced that not just a little part of the magic at play was due to the space. Once a brewery’s warehouse and a banana ripening depot Donmar Warehouse today is a 251 seats theatre in the heart of Covent Garden. Since the building wasn’t meant to be a theater, the theater had to adjust. That the mix of two things that usually have nothing to do with each other isn’t the worst idea shows not least Tate Modern that found its home in a former factory building that lends it its distinctive charm. And one of my favorite definitions of creativity states that creativity is nothing more than the ability to combine things that are usually completely unrelated into something meaningful. So, Donmar Warehouse is by definition and founding creative, a spirit it infuses into its productions (and nurturing like bananas and beer I guess too).

Versailles at the Donmar proved my conviction and gave me everything I hoped for. I was lucky enough to score front row tickets (information about Barclays Front Row Tickets is available on the Donmar Warehouse website) and had we’d been any closer to the play we would have had to act. In fact, once in a while I was afraid the ghost will end up on my lap if he’d taken another step backwards.

Yes, the ghost. He represented everything, Versailles didn’t show and the characters tried to repress in order to continue the life they have known – the war, the horrors, the death, the trauma, the lost hopes. And he represented so much more on so many levels. I’m with Dumbledore, I love knitting patterns. And Versailles is an intricate one that allows you to ride along its many strings while they intertwine though they only once really all come together – at the very end when the beginning is shown and the tears about what is yet to come are shared by all equally.

It’s on the ghost that I picked up on for the painting as well as on the unstable status quo of the end. The true face of the war is reflected in the famous mirrors of Versailles, while the hint of the Roaring Twenties – the attempt to continue business as usual despite the knowledge that this way has failed once before – can be found in the Art Deco patterns of the stage. Another thank you for a highlight of this London trip turned into inspiration.

 

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