The unexpected physicality of a Stasi interrogator

Seeing his friend on the stage, in a theatre that stood on top of a swimming pool in an unassuming part of East Amsterdam, brought on an unexpected sense of pride. He knew his friend had been involved in numerous productions, both as a director and actor, so why this sense of pride? Either way, there it was.

His friend’s acting provided the sense of comfort and trust well-cast actors always bring to the stage when they’re on form. It’s the sense of trust that exists outside of a character’s likability or moral direction; a sort of artistic license that says: I will let you sweep me away to wherever you want to take me. It didn’t happen often since it required the transcendence of acting into something else, what certain people might call some kind of truth.

Knowing that it was a friend that led him down the satire led street of  “Allo’ Allo’” was an experience he didn’t know existed before, in that moment, it existed. But what was the experience exactly? Pride by association? An intimacy that elevated the perceived quality of performance? He couldn’t make sense of it as he sipped on a Duvel in the dimmed theatre. But the smile on his face was one of full capitulation to what was happening on stage.

He tried unmasking his friend beneath the cloak of his character. He clearly remembered numerous articles in the art sections of the Sunday papers where actors would say, “you must expose something of yourself to fully own a role”. He’d always agreed on an intellectual level, despite never having acted himself, or ever having an inclination to do so. He believed that it meant that any play, no matter if it had been reproduced on a stage hundreds of times before, had an automatic uniqueness since the actors always brought something from themselves into a role. While this said nothing about the quality of the Sunday paper actors, or indeed their plays, it did say something about live theatre and the inherent re-contextualisation that is part of its DNA.

After all, a play does not only consist of actors playing their parts, but inevitably also includes elements of personality that can peek out beneath the cloak of fictional storytelling.

And so, as he watched his friend perform, he couldn’t tell if there were aspects of his friend that he recognised, or if there were any previously hidden characteristics that he expressed through his role as a Stasi interrogator. But there was certainly an unexpected physicality that was present, which he put down to refined acting skills rather than a previously hidden feature of his being.

Although some of the sternness and directness, which he normally wouldn’t attribute to his friend – an ideological and morally convinced person with a diplomatic side that he tended to abide by unless he was engaged in an intellectual debate he did not agree with – did perhaps point to a side of him that had always been there, but which he’d never had the need to display. That the role was delivered without the glee that some actors fail to suppress in such roles was also impressive. Revelling in the opportunity to act out could easily take an actor too far, turning it into farce. And while Allo’ Allo’ voluntarily sits comfortably in the farce bracket, it was a balancing act his friend came out on the right side of.

After the play, when he met the amateur cast over some drinks, he gave his friend the credit he was due. They discussed art and what makes a good play and he remembered that he liked his friend for these conversations. A mutual appreciation and understanding had developed between them over the years.

And perhaps, he thought, his pride was located, somewhere in-between them, in this common understanding and shared experiences, and less attached to anyone’s individual qualities. And that in some way, his friend’s acting abilities became another layer of their friendship, another avenue of insight in which their relationship could exist and relate to.

After a couple of more beers he found himself in a cab, in that reflective state one can fall into on dark winter nights when yellow street lights flicker through the car window like a necklace of lit up butterflies.

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