The Tin Drum presented by UnSpun Theatre, December 5th-14th
Interview by: Ryan Quinn
Last week, I was fortunate enough to speak to director Chris Hanratty and actor Shira Leuchter, who also act as Artistic Director and Creative Director of the company, about UnSpun Theatre‘s incredibly exciting upcoming adaptation of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass.
The Tin Drum, says Hanratty, “is the story of Oskar Matzerath, who is retelling his life from a mental institution. In our adaptation, he’s trying to figure out if he should be there or not. Oskar wills himself to stop growing at age three, so he’s the eternal child, the eternal innocent.” It’s also known as one of the seminal works of magic realism, which lends itself beautifully to the stage. “There’s a lot more suspension of disbelief in theatre than in film,” Hanratty explains.
You may recognize the name, the 1979 film version is now considered a classic piece of German cinema. “The film was quite well received critically, it co-won the Palm D’Or with Apocalypse Now, it won the best Foreign Language Oscar, but some people really hated it because of the character of Oskar.” The controversy stemmed from the fact that Oskar, a mature adult in a child’s body, has romantic relationships in the course of the film. This led to some groups deeming it child pornography, and the film was banned in several places (of course only later to be reversed).
This project began six years ago, and has always been a passion project for Leuchter, who co-adapted the novel with Hanratty and performs in the piece. “When Shira came to me about The Tin Drum, I had heard a little bit about it just because it had been banned in Ontario. Shira came to the novel a long time before I did. She brought me to it.” Leuchter’s long been a fan, and has sought to turn it into an English-language theatrical piece for quite some time: “As I read it, there’s so much magic in the novel that I just kept seeing stage imagery in my mind. You know, the breaking of glass onstage, or trying to stage something where the main character is so small.”
This has been a huge learning experience for the couple, who have seen this piece change and take shape over the past six years. “We were lucky enough to get some time to work on the first third of the book in the Equity showcase, and neither of us had ever adapted something before,” Leuchter told me, and that first adaptation, though overly faithful to the text, became the seed of this project. “We needed to tell the story we want to tell. That meant adding things and changing things and it took us a long time to get comfortable with that, especially knowing that Günter Grass would be reading the piece.” “We wanted to make sure we got it right, for us too. It’s been six years and now we’re in rehearsals with two weeks to go. The essence is there, the characters are there, but I mean, it’s a 600-page novel cut down into a 90-page script. You have to cut something,” Hanratty added.
In the end, it’s the power of perseverance that’s made this project feel so satisfying for the pair, whose lives have changed a lot since the beginning of the process, as evidenced by the picture of their son that Hanratty proudly keeps pinned to his shirt. “For this project, it’s been incredibly important for us to just keep at it. We started this six years ago, and there have been peaks and valleys. It’s nice to let something breathe and grow,” Hanratty told me.
As to the contemporary importance of this piece, Leuchter replied, “I’m Jewish, and when I got out of theatre school, I did a lot of Holocaust pieces, and those are very important, but I’ve always been looking for other voices. We don’t often ask questions to people on the quote-unquote “wrong side” of history, but I think those stories are very important.”
It’s also about the act of viewing, Leuchter told me, and the culpability of the bystander: “This story explores how witnesses to history enabled it. Are we responsible, are we not? When we just observe what our culture is from the sidelines, how culpable are we? It’s really easy for me to extricate myself from the actions by my country. It’s easy to remove myself as an active participant in what my country does”. This is true more than ever with new technology, Hanratty believes: “The internet makes us witnesses to so many things, but do we have responsibilities as witnesses? Or is it okay to have just seen something?”
The Tin Drum
An original adaptation based on the novel by Günter Grass.
Adapted by Chris Hanratty & Shira Leuchter, presented by UnSpun Theatre
When: December 5th to the 14th
Where: AKI Studio at 585 Dundas Street East.
Tickets: Available by phone (1-800-204-0855), in person at the box office, or online, and group rates are available.