Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus

Chloe Smyth
5 April 2015

GerSoc’s Olivia Morton and Sophie Klasan on the society’s latest stage production.


Image credit: GerSoc

St Andrews’ On the Rocks festival enters exciting new territory next Thursday and Friday evening with GerSoc’s performances of Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus, the first foreign language play ever to feature in the festival’s line-up.  Their production of Austrian writer Johann Nestroy’s work is, however, unique in more ways than one: it marks the first time GerSoc have offered us two plays in an academic year and is remarkably the first ever staging of the play in its original language in the UK.

The event is by no means aimed solely at German speakers: English subtitles will be screened throughout and you can chat with the cast and crew during a free wine reception at the interval. Still not sure if it’s worth a watch? Director Olivia Morton and Producer Sophie Klasan tell us more…

The Interpreter: Describe Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus‘ in 3 words.

Olivia Morton: Memorable, entertaining, and unique.

T.I: It’s not exactly well-known: how did it end up being this semester’s play?

OM: We decided after last semester’s play that we wanted to do another one, so we came up with a short-list of plays with those involved last time and the German department. We got broad suggestions from various Germanic countries. I read most of them, and was just drawn to this one – it’s funny and something different.

Sophie Klasan: The size of production was an important factor: we didn’t want a play with a very small, all-male cast for example. We wanted to give people the chance to try something new and allow as many people as possible to get involved, in whatever capacity they wanted. We’ve got a large cast of 30 and, like last semester, we’re a mix of native speakers, people fluent in German, beginners of German and people who just did German at school.

OM: I love that it’s accessible – you don’t need 10 years of theatre experience, nor do you need to be able to speak fluent German to do this. It’s still an ambitious project, but worth the extra work because everyone really enjoys it.

T.I: What’s been the most challenging aspect so far?

OM: Pitching the level of rehearsals and performance because we’re all coming with different levels of experience in each different area, whether that’s in German, acting, projecting your voice, singing, etc.  We have non-native speakers who obviously aren’t as good at German but better at acting than some native speakers and so on…I love the variation though and it’s been great as director to help everybody improve, both individually and then together as a group.

SK: A big stumbling block came at the start: there was no published English translation, which is essential for the subtitles and to help the cast get to grips with the play as quickly as possible.  Thankfully Olivia stumbled across Professor Perraudin from Sheffield University who had been working on his own, unpublished translation. We got in touch with him, and he was so supportive and enthusiastic about our performance. He gave us his translation, the score, everything – without him we probably wouldn’t have been able to do it.

I guess another challenge has been working in such a small time-frame*: we’ve had to be very intense with our rehearsal schedule.  But, all of the cast members and the production team have been really dedicated, giving their time, effort and enthusiasm, making sure they’d learned their lines by the deadlines we set, turning up to rehearsals…

T.I: So what should the audience expect? I’ve heard rumours of singing, dancing…

SK: People should expect to laugh, be entertained and see something different that they certainly won’t forget quickly. The dynamics between characters are great and I can confirm the singing is fantastic: it’s not just great quality but also funny and enthusiastically delivered.  There is indeed dancing and many other comedic elements.  Yet, thematically it’s diverse: it centres around three ordinary guys whose stories have three completely different outcomes.  It’s about how we deal with wealth and what money does to people.

OM: It’s relevant – you see aspects of the characters in your own life or people around you.

SK: I’d like to think it leaves the audience asking questions at the end.

O: And, that’ll not be because they didn’t understand the German! It’s not a bad thing if people are slightly confused and draw different conclusions from the ending. I don’t think people are likely to leave talking about the deeper themes of the play, but it does give some food for thought.

T.I: Tell me about participating in On The Rocks.

S: It’s the first time we applied –it’s quite competitive because the festival is so popular and I’d like to think we were accepted partly due to the success of last semester’s play. Unfortunately, people don’t always see foreign language plays in St Andrews as proper plays, just as something that foreign language people do.  This is a great way to try and change that mindset.

O: The fact that we have subtitles makes a big difference.  I love that people who don’t speak German come along.  Last time, at the wine reception, someone told me she had just been following the subtitles and suddenly realised that German was a beautiful language.  People can still have a natural negative instinct toward German, but hopefully we can show off its beauty.

S: We appreciate that it may be distracting to read the subtitles on the screen while following what’s happening on stage but feedback says it worked well last time. The jokes are definitely very well translated – they’re very funny even in the subtitles.

T.I: So taking on the mammoth task of two plays in one year is not something you regret?

O: Not at all.  It’s so rewarding to see the progress we’ve made with this production. As director, I’m particularly enjoying it now: I’ve put a lot of work into practicing with the cast, finding what we think works in the scene and now I can take a step back. There isn’t much more I can do.

S: For me, it’s the opposite: last semester I was directing, but now I’m physically on stage during most of the scenes.  It’s nerve-wrecking but being on stage again has been great.  Some people who were in the cast last semester are here again, and it’s strange how the dynamic completely changes when you’re also a cast member.  Now, I’m getting to know both old and new cast members primarily as a friend, not just as their director.

OM: Regardless of what happens on the night, I’m really proud to see how everyone has improved, how people who were a little shyer are starting to enjoy both being on-stage and their roles.  We’ve managed to put together something completely new and funny, and we hope that people who come along will appreciate our effort and have an enjoyable and memorable night.

*due to last semester’s play, exams and the break, rehearsals could only begin in Week 2 and performance dates were fixed, corresponding with On the Rocks.

Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus can be seen as part of the On the Rocks Festival in the Buchanan Theatre on the 9th and 10th April. Doors 18:30. Complimentary wine reception at the interval.

Tickets (£6; £4 GerSoc members) can be bought online at or directly from the Byre Theatre box office.

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