Eldorado, Arcola Theatre, London – review

Despite having been a major figure in the “blood and sperm” movement (Germany’s equivalent of 1990s “in-yer-face” theatre), Marius von Mayenburg is now deemed by some of his compatriots to be rather old-fashioned, primarily because he is still concerned about character. Almost all the figures in this 2004 play, and certainly the central couple, come across as persons rather than sets of quirks and dramatic conveniences. Von Mayenburg is concerned with people, not with the processes of theatre acting upon itself, as is the currently fashionable tendency in his homeland.

Like other of his plays seen in Britain – Fireface, The StoneEldorado concentrates on a family grouping and exerts upon it both an individual and a broader societal stress. In this case, the former is Anton’s attempt to conceal from his wife his dismissal from his well-paid job, by signing his rich mother-in-law up to a business deal which is no longer his to offer. The broader pressure stems from the fact that Anton’s job is selling investment opportunities in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged city in which they now live as occupiers.

An implicit indictment runs through the play of this geopolitical equivalent of what the late Malcolm McLaren termed “cash from chaos”, but it also serves as a big-picture symbol of the various individual characters’ issues. Virtually everyone finds their ambition overreaching and reacts in a despairing way: Anton’s wife Thekla gives up her career as a pianist and instructor, her star pupil also loses faith in her own abilities, and Anton’s boss Aschenbrenner (“Ash-burner”, perhaps significantly) hangs himself when confronted with his own professional incompetence.

Michael Colgan as Anton keeps us engaged through his journey from nervous efficiency to nervous breakdown. Amanda Hale is slightly edgier throughout, and also needs to make more of an effort to maintain audibility when her back is to part of the audience (which, since the Arcola seats viewers on three sides, is most of the time). Sian Thomas exudes plutocratic complacency as mother-in-law Greta, and no one would want the ghost of Mark Tandy’s Aschenbrenner drumming a tattoo in their cupboard.

Ultimately the play says little more than that, both as individuals and as a society, what shapes us is how we deal with our failures; but I suppose that is a lesson that cannot be repeated too often.


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.