Written for Whatsonstage.com
Peter Handke, an Austrian post-modern playwright, wrote Kaspar in 1968. Presented by Aya Theatre company in a disused railway arch in Southwark, this short play is largely performed by one actor, Ryan Kiggell, who takes the title role. Based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser who, aged 16, was only able to speak one sentence, the play opens with a lengthy sequence in which Kiggell recites “I want to be someone like somebody else once was” repeatedly, investigating every permutation of vocal inflection.
Projected voices bombard Kaspar from the four corners of the sparse and expansive area of this new performance space. Initially a puppet without a master, Kaspar responds to the instruction he receives and begins a (sometimes cripplingly) slow process of learning, via comparison and extrapolation.
Kiggell’s physical choreography is perfectly synced with the rhythm of the audio delivery. It’s strange to see a grown man, albeit in a somewhat dishevelled suit, building his own world. Handke explores what it means to know something: Kaspar attempts to create knowledge through aphorism and ties himself in knots with his semiotic obsession.
It’s hard to know how to respond to a play that’s only intellectually interesting, but Aya Theatre’s production is executed with precision and dedication. Kiggell matches the quality of Kaspar’s thought with poise and diction, whilst still retaining the air of Beckett’s tramps. Kiggell’s pallid face is that of both clown and genius; don’t see this play unless you’re fully prepared to be “sentenced to reality”.