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March 19, 2013 5:58 pm
Having begun a show by having a character exit and turn out the lights, plunging the stage and audience into darkness, how do you top that for perversity? Answer: by having a dozen armed and armoured police break in, tearing apart the entire contemporary-apartment set, floor and ceiling included, then getting them to order the spectators, “Nothing to see; leave the hall.” After 20 minutes milling around in a foyer passageway, devoid of information of any kind, we were summoned by a harsh electric bell to resume our seats. Not that this was an interval: the notices were adamant about that. It was part of the piece.
Romeo Castellucci has produced, for the Schaubühne’s F.I.N.D. (Festival Internationale Neue Dramatik) season, a typically adventurous – or tenuous, depending on one’s viewpoint – adaptation of Hölderlin’s epistolary novel of 1797. Described in publicity as “a political and poetic reflection on contemporary art, religion and rebellion, on literature as a drug and in the terrorism of beauty”, it is, as usual with Castellucci, much more oblique even than that. The opening scene is not referred to again, although the police are periodically visible, at one point wearing “bug suits” and apparently spray-disinfecting the Ionian sky.
The bulk of the performance consists of a succession of girls and women, each older than the last, reciting extracts from Hölderlin’s text regarding the idealistic power of beauty. These figures alternately, or simultaneously, seem to represent Hyperion and his beloved Diotima. The performers include the venerable Angela Winkler, whom I once saw creep up behind a critic onstage at a theatre event as if to throttle him. A case could be made for her adopting a similar approach to Castellucci here; he underuses her, and her fellows, woefully. At one point a blind dog sits onstage for a few minutes . . . literally, a real, live, blind dog. No idea.
In the final, or at least the final major, phase of the performance, a naked white-painted woman, while reciting more of the same with the same agonising slowness, simultaneously operates an iriscope and a chrome vibrator. If this is a symbolic contest between insight and, well, the other thing, insight comes second. Real idealism and extremism will always be more potent than such abstracted portrayals of it, simply because it appreciates the requirement to make itself comprehensible. Nothing to see; leave the hall.
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