- •Contact us
- •About us
- •Advertise with the FT
- •Terms & conditions
© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Last updated: August 18, 2012 12:02 am
Whatever else the official Edinburgh Festival may bring, My Fair Lady – A Language Laboratory, to give Theater Basel’s surreal comedy its English title, will be hard to surpass. It has to be the festival’s disaster (every year has one), the clanger whose inclusion nobody can understand.
Revered director Christoph Marthaler sets his inconsequential doodles, whimsical non-sequiturs and revue sketches in a language laboratory where students are learning English, a pianist stage left plays the overture to Der Freishchütz and a Frankenstein monster-type sits at the organ stage right. A TV monitor shows images unrelated to one another or to the stage proceedings. Despite the often-repeated phrase about the rain in Spain and fragments of the show’s tunes, the musical has nothing to do with it. Marthaler’s main joke is to show nerds or misfits attempting cool. A couple sing “Silent Night, Holy Night”, with awkward, amateurish gestures, as if auditioning. A woman with her right arm in a sling puzzles over how to descend a staircase with a right-hand bannister: in the joke’s many reprises she variously goes backwards, bumps her way down on her bottom and slides down the bannister – one of the production’s specialities is to return to a joke as often as possible until a running gag limps to its grave.
There is no plot, scarcely any dialogue, and for no apparent reason occasional song. One of the characters addresses the class with Sarastro’s speech introducing Tamino to the Temple from The Magic Flute. An air hostess hands out airline meals saying there is no love and hate rules. Two characters throw pasta at each other. No discernible thread leads to a lurching rhythm (lots of deliberate pauses during which you wonder if someone has forgotten their cue) and several false endings (how the heart leaps). All sympathy to dedicated and talented actors whom one would like to see in real theatre.
The production fails not because it is bewildering but because it is mind-numbingly boring. As an example of European theatre of ideas and action, this confirms one’s suspicions that the British are right to cherish their text-based tradition.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.