Cast fall off tables, chairs – and stage – during 'experimental' bender at Schauspielhaus in Frankfurt
Actors are often warned never to work with children or animals. To that list, 80% proof Russian vodka should now be added.
A performance at Frankfurt's prestigious Schauspielhaus theatre ended in chaos after four of Germany's top actors decided "as an experiment" to substitute vodka for water during a performance of a play described in the programme notes as a "crazy depiction of one of the most famous alcoholic benders in world literature".
Moscow To the End of the Line, a 1970 novel by the late Russian author Venedikt Erofeev, is a satirical account of a cable fitter sacked after checking the amount of alcohol fellow workers consume. The action takes place in Soviet times as the worker takes a train across Russia to reach his lover in a remote village.
In their stage adaptation of the story, the actors, Torben Kessler, Michael Abendroth, Marc Oliver Schulze and Oliver Kraushaar, decided the best way to embody their characters – the worker and his fellow passengers who spend the journey binge-drinking and never arrive at their destination – was to hit the bottle.
Initially the audience was amused. But then alarm grew as they started falling off chairs and tables and inviting theatregoers to take swigs out of their bottles.
"At first it was quite impressive, they seemed to be giving a good impersonation of tipsiness," one audience member told a German newspaper. "Then they started leaping around shouting 'nastrovia' (cheers in Russian) ... and then they handed round the drink." One of the actors could no longer stand up; another, literally, slipped up on his script.
"People started clapping, thinking it belonged to the performance," the theatregoer said.
When one of the actors fell off the stage on his chair and his co-actor fell from a table, the backstage crew intervened and called an ambulance.
The uproar continued in the ambulance where Schulze, 36, allegedly became violent, forcing the medics to call for police backup. Schulze later had his stomach pumped at Frankfurt's university clinic.
Called to account for the behaviour of his actors, director Oliver Reese said: "It was seen as a bit of an experiment, sort of along the lines of 'let's perform this wonderful text and have a bit of a drink at the same time' and it went a bit awry.
"One of the actors in particular clearly drank too much vodka, on an empty stomach. That in combination with the adrenalin an actor already feels when he's on stage caused him to go off the rails. His self-control failed him."
Reese summoned the actors for a dressing down after the performance. "I told them I didn't want to see anything like that ever again. It was kindergarten behaviour."
The actors had recovered well, he said.
* Kate Connolly in Berlin
* guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 January 2010 18.03 GMT \