From method acting to madness

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It was intended as a highbrow theatrical rendition of a Soviet-era poem, but the actors staging it at Frankfurt's prestigious Schauspielhaus took the programme notes – "a crazy depiction of one of the most famous alcoholic benders in world literature" – a little too literally. The performance ended with seriously inebriated actors falling off the stage, and one actor going berserk in an ambulance that was summoned by backstage staff.

The 1969 prose poem "Journey to Petushki" by the late Soviet-era playwright Venedikt Yerofeyev is an account of a train journey from Moscow to a town outside the Russian capital, undertaken by a cable fitter who has been given the sack after checking the amount of alcohol fellow workers consume. The train journey is literally soaked in alcohol and, needless to say, none of the travellers manage to reach their destination.

It emerged yesterday that none of the four actors on the Frankfurt stage managed to reach their theatrical destination either, after plunging into a spot of method acting and swapping their water for vodka.

"They began slurring their lines and their manuscripts fell off their laps on to the floor," said a member of the 80-strong audience. "Then they started offering us drinks too. One of the actors fell down. But everyone watching clapped because at that point, we were still convinced it was all part of the show."

Yet matters were to deteriorate further. One of the actors, who sat slumped in a chair, tipped backwards and fell off the stage into the audience. Another collapsed in a heap on the stage and could not get up.

Marc Schulze, 36, a well-known television actor, had to be taken to hospital. "He went berserk in the ambulance and four police cars went to the scene before he could be taken to hospital to sober up," reported Germany's Bild newspaper. The three other actors – Torben Kessler, Michael Abendroth and Oliver Kraushaar – were taken home to sleep it off.

Oliver Reese, the theatre's director, said the actors had been conducting an experiment. "It was along the lines of: 'let's read this wonderful text and have a drink at the same time' – and it went badly wrong," he said.