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When Nick Bagnall met Manfred Karge [2/2]

The Everyman Company in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.
The Everyman Company in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

When I met Manfred Karge at the Berliner Ensemble, we spoke about the translation and he was really excited that I wanted to contemporise it in some way without it being completely Liverpool specific. He was really intrigued as to why I think it works in this city, which is to do with dare. It’s to do with never giving in. He was really interested that I was from Scarborough, or Yorkshire, because he thought that there was a really big connection to mining and people’s lives being ruined by industry. It became a huge political debate which was brilliant because it was exactly what I was after.

We talked about his relationship to the play now and he said it had been a long time since he had revisited it. I asked why, he said it takes him back to a place which was a difficult time. In 1986 everyone thought the wall was going to be up forever. He was taken with a group of artists into the German Democratic Republic (GDR), to the head of culture and he was told in no uncertain terms that he was no longer allowed to write any more political work. This play was two fingers up to that meeting. It couldn’t have been any more politically explicit at the time.

Laura Dos Santos, Keddy Sutton & Dean Nolan in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.
Laura Dos Santos, Keddy Sutton & Dean Nolan in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

We then went out onto the balcony and had some photos taken where he smoked lots of big fat cigars. I felt like he understood me and that he liked that I wasn’t just intellectualising everything. We talked about how British directors often treat this play as an intellectual exercise and actually that it’s not. He said it’s an inventive thing, he talked about the flourish of language and how they want to set themselves apart. These people they’re downtrodden and they use language not necessarily associated with their working classes as a tool to set them apart as people who don’t want to be looked at as victims.

Emily Hughes & George Caple in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.
Emily Hughes & George Caple in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

The next day was spent walking the Berlin Wall, I found it really difficult to enjoy it after what we had discussed the day before. We went to the Holocaust memorial and I was so emotional and so moved. We saw where the uprising had started and I started to see how it was all connected to the play. It made me realise why and how the play was written and how vital and dangerous it was as a piece of writing.

Emily Hughes in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.
Emily Hughes in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

When I came back to rehearsals I didn’t think I had anything to talk about but I opened my mouth and spoke all morning about Manfred Karge and how incredible he was and how proud we are to be doing this play and how essential it is that we do it now.

Dean Nolan in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.
Dean Nolan in The Conquest of the South Pole. Photograph by Gary Calton.

Pre-show talk
Manfred Karge in conversation with Nick Bagnall
Tue 4 Apr 2017 // 6.30pm, theatre bar

The Conquest of the South Pole is at the Everyman until Sat 8 Apr

Posted in THE EVERYMAN COMPANY