Only stagnation means freedom

Only stagnation means freedom

Imagine your radius of experience is limited to four walls and you don’t mind at all, you even find it comfortable. Imagine you have your own assistant who takes care of everything for you. Call her Isadora and talk to her like your best friend. Imagine that everything is so conveniently arranged for you that you can even receive friends at the virtual lunch table. Imagine you are completely independent of the outside world and happy as can be – only you never go outside because you are afraid of it.

This is exactly the setting Caroline Peters offered with the Ledwald group in the play “Die Maschine steht nicht still”. The production is a paraphrase of a text by E.M. Forster’s “The machine stops” from 1909 and was created as a reaction to the pandemic in which most of us became much more dependent on computers and the internet.

Amazing visuals by Eric Dunlap, a permanent live camera guide by Andrea Gabriel (also responsible for recorded videos) and a perfectly coordinated light and sound design by Lars Deutrich add an electronic layer to the performance that is not only absolutely zeitgeisty, but also makes sense here. The text, adapted by Caroline Peters, tells of a woman who receives a call from her father one day. Like her, he lives 2.5 km away from her in a setting like the one described above, wants to tell her something and asks her to take to the road and come to him not just virtually but in the flesh.

This initial situation puts his daughter in a quandary, as she is supposed to leave her protective environment against all orders and go into a terrain of which she has no idea what awaits her there. Mindcontrol has progressed so far that any experiment outside of one’s own four walls no longer seems desirable and the maxim applies: standstill is progress and what I don’t try can’t go wrong. Towards the end, however, the daughter actually succeeds in freeing herself from her monitoring companion Isadora, who immediately invites comparison with Alexa, Siri or other currently active electronic helpers. In addition to the description of everyday life, which Peters renders with high acting skill, whether it is a cooking recipe she wants Isadora to implement, taking voice calls or watching video lectures, she is fascinating in multiple roles in the scene at the table with her invited friends. They have all been recorded by her beforehand and, at the push of a button, gather around the laid table in virtual space to – as is familiar from real life – show off, look frightened, be amazed or be admired, just like the respective characters.

Lars Deutrich on the electronic sound machine and Andrea Gabriel in the role of the mute Isadora, who captures everything with her live camera and also saves it, are permanently present on stage. Both Peters and Gabriel wear poison-green costumes with a spider pattern – a symbol of imprisonment in the web, which is nevertheless perceived as chic and essential. (Costumes Flora Miranda) It is not only the illusionistic setting that impresses, but also the text, which has a whole series of dazzling sentence pearls such as: “Since the pandemic, we know that viruses and technology grow exponentially”, “Knowledge is a kind of fiction”, “Deep Intelligence is also just another kind of cheating” or “To time its loop, to the loop its freedom” – a rewrite of the Hevesi slogan emblazoned over the Vienna Secession. These are just a few, few statements that one would like to read at home because of the further abundance of philosophical ideas, bon mots and visions of the future.

The clever, open ending leaves a taste of relief and fear at the same time and in no way glosses over the digital future we already find ourselves in.

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An animal election campaign

An animal election campaign

Designed as a “walk for the figure”, it invites the audience to move from the backyard of the theatre to the Arne Karlsson Park opposite with a conferencier. There, at various stations, it discovered a whole series of animal figures who prove to be election candidates with flaming speeches.

The monkey Sunni, awarded such numerous titles that in the end there is nothing left to do but address him as Sunni only, releases the audience with their companion Markus-Peter Gössler into the wild. There they meet a Cheshire Cat, under whose guidance the candidates for the election can be tracked down.

A rat from the underground brandishes a flaming speech against the injustice with which the nimble squirrels are favoured over them. A mysterious rabbit entertains the audience with equally mysterious election promises, who after questioning them know as little about themselves as they did before. Two ancient maggots try to win their clientele over to their side with poppy sounds – much to the amusement of children present, who have broken away from their game and enjoy the unexpected maggot spectacle. And finally, a former general in the guise of a boar offers meat loaf to the interested electorate present, to be able to increase the protection of his homeland with their votes.

For all those who belong to the regular audience of the Schubert Theatre, the little trip is also a wonderful opportunity to see the individual characters again. The two fat, greedy maggots had their big appearance in never-never land XX, the rat beast likewise in Ochkatzlschwoaf. The Ebergeneral comes from the play Go West! And the white rabbit was in ALICE.

Whether you join the little tour as a newcomer or as an old acquaintance, however, makes no difference. The joy of puppetry and its well-known secret, that the people who serve them disappear behind them and yet remain visible, is always the same.

Directed by Simon Meusburger, Soffi Povo, Angelo Konzett and Markus-Peter Gössler merge with their puppets and yet remain visible in their likeable acting performance.

Further dates every June weekend, Saturdays 2:30 & 5:30 pm, Sundays 11:00 & 3 pm.

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Quo vaditis, Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams?

Quo vaditis, Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams?

There was a time when some of her formulated thoughts made your heart stop almost every minute. There was a time when you knew: Wherever Rabtaldirndl is written, there is wit, esprit and intelligence inside. Rebelliousness and demonstrative self-empowerment, but also intelligent questions about the female state of mind ran light-footedly alongside the great plot of the chosen title. Whether jam was refined into a “golden sentence” or one was allowed to litigate in the open behind the “Uschi Kümmernis”, the flashes of inspiration always sparkled and the ensemble always encouraged reflection and rethinking.

The name Toxic dreams stands for unconventional theatre experiences. It stands for putting social conditions in a theatrical light that reveals what seems almost unspeakable without it.

In the production “The unreal Housewife of Vienna vs. The unreal Housewives of Graz”, the two companies joined forces to address the topic of “wealthy housewives”. The reality format “The real housewives” served as a model for this, in which the audience is allowed to look into the supposed inner but also outer life of the rich and beautiful.

The current production, directed by Yosi Wanunu, the artistic director of toxic dreams and an experienced theatre man, cannot really live up to the expectations of this collaboration. This circumstance has several causes. Translating a TV format into theatre is no easy task, especially since there are already stage parodies for this series in particular.
Secondly, it may be that one or the other finds it entertaining to see women psychologically unmasking themselves and going at each other like crows. But this kind of entertainment did not really sweep the audience present from their seats.

Thirdly, there is the question of the sense of juxtaposing Viennese and Graz women’s cliques from the wealthy milieu and having them compete against each other in a showdown like in an arena. The black and white big-city elegance, versus the colourful, fashionable costume, makes it clear which shark women are in charge here internationally and which are national at most. Whereby the costumes by Susanne Bisovsky, a Viennese fashion great, are the absolute highlights of the production. The fact that the Graz women define themselves more about their possessions and rant about them, while the Viennese women indulge in more introspection right from the start, but then also make disparaging remarks about what they hear in each case – this difference alone does not make the evening exciting.

Whether it’s the chic white interior of a Ruckerlberg villa or the dignified brown leather sofas in a flat with a view of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (stage: Götz Bury, Paul Horn), whether the ladies dress up in tennis outfits or sauna coats – the navel-gazing of Graz’s haute volee or Vienna’s high society tires relatively quickly. Possibly this feeling was also intensified by the permanently rising heat in the hall of the Kristallwerk.

The musical interludes that are performed live towards the end don’t help either. The text that is used does not reflect anything other than what one has already experienced before. Whoever is rich and beautiful can get away with anything, whoever is rich and beautiful, no matter how he or she got there, only needs to care about others for the sake of form. And – not to forget: Those who are rich and beautiful suffer from their meaningless lives. One suffers a little more, the other a little less, but it’s not easy for them either!

What is missing is the biting wit that can expose socially toxic structures that are geared exclusively to the principle of my house, my car, my yacht. What is missing is linguistic finesse, for which the Rabtaldirndln in particular stand. Their Styrian dialect chunks, often thrown down so casually, are usually far superior to High German in their conciseness and turn many a supposed aside into a long sparkling, intellectual diamond.
But there is also a lack of feeling for how many platitudes a text can take without ending up in boredom, repetition and predictability.

In short, what is missing is that moment when the spark jumps over to the audience and ignites their emotions. Those who belong to the section of the population that is targeted here with not particularly suitable means will not really feel addressed. And if they do, they will fiercely resist it in a kind of defensive position. Those who are not part of the chic scene should not expect any profound psychological insights into the ladies who are embodied on stage. The text offers them all too little personal contour for one to be able to identify with them.

The second series of plays will take place at the brut in Vienna from autumn. Perhaps there will be adaptations by then that will make a visit seem more worthwhile. Slips are allowed and are part of the theatre business. “The unreal Housewife of Vienna vs. The unreal Housewives of Graz” should in no way contribute to not visiting the upcoming productions of the Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams. The focus on their own core competences and, above all, on exciting themes will certainly provide the audience with interesting and highly emotional theatre evenings again.

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What a time!

What a time!

People go to the action theatre ensemble for various reasons. Because you want to know what kind of theatre this troupe does, because you are taken by friends and have no idea what to expect, because you appreciate the kind of theatre you get to see or because you have the feeling of meeting old acquaintances again. But if you’ve been following Martin Gruber and his work for a while, there’s another reason to watch every new production. It is the fascination of gaining creative access to our current events and of looking at events, emotions and social structures from a different angle than the one we are confronted with every day.

It is precisely this approach that makes every visit a new experience. In the meantime, Gruber generates the respective cast from a large ensemble pool, which also has newcomers every now and then. Zeynep Alan, Babett Arens, Michaela Bilgeri, Luzian Hirzel, David Kopp and Tamara Stern are in action for “Lüg mich an und spiel mit mir”. The stage action is complemented by live music by Dominik Essletzbichler, Daniel Neuhauser, Gidon Oechsner, Daniel Schober. This time they have a strong part of their own and are not only responsible for an underlining soundtrack.

Without exception, they all enter the stage with black-rimmed eyes. An obvious message that what is to come will not be fun trallala. How could it be – in times like these! The pandemic has not yet disappeared, the environmental problem will never go away and the war in Eastern Europe has repercussions far beyond Ukraine. The zeitgeist that surrounds us is filled with fears, but also aggression, which we try to suppress as best we can.

It is precisely on this wound that Gruber puts his finger. The longer the performance lasts, the more this wound is opened, from which a lot of blood eventually flows. That which many of us carry out within ourselves is allowed to act out its ensemble before us and for us. There is insulting and shouting, people puff on each other and irritate each other until rage bursts out of everyone and the law of the fist enters the stage.

Right from the start, Tamara Stern gives free rein to her negative emotions, and at times so violently that she resembles a wild animal. What initially manifests itself only in violent verbal injuria tips over into physical aggression, which leads to violent attacks and fights that gradually spread to everyone else.

The stage is bordered by a concave screen showing photos that slowly change. A map of Ukraine can be seen through small peepholes, later the theatre of Mariupol can be seen – shot up, bombed, with a partially collapsed roof. None of this is commented on, but is subliminally permanently in the room, underpinning the sentences with another layer. One not only begins to understand that the horror and the threat could just as well affect us, sitting in the protected theatre space. One also begins to understand, to realise what one always feels anyway. We can talk ourselves into a better reality, we can look positively into the future and try to push away what doesn’t suit us or simply overwhelms us. Nevertheless, “it” is there. It happens while we are trying to enjoy ourselves.

It doesn’t help to look enviously at the Swiss population. According to Babett Arens and Luzian Hirzel, there is a place in a shelter for every citizen there. Under the theatre in Mariupol, people also thought they were safe. But what use is any hiding place, no matter how fortified, if we ruin our environment with every wash? Even organic detergents end up in the drain and destroy our waters. How can we distinguish good from evil when beggars we have known for many years suddenly ask for help not as Roma but as Ukrainians? What about the Ukrainian refugee from the east of the country who found refuge here with us 8 years ago, fleeing Ukrainian repression? What message did we not hear, did we not want to hear? Is it permissible to attack Russians who attack us, but not Ukrainians? And what absurdity, or perhaps even monstrosity, is revealed in the fact that a president who has proven himself to be an outstanding dancing star is now bitterly fighting for villages and towns that are being reduced to rubble? What are facts, what are lies? How much do we participate in it and why? At one point a momentous sentence is uttered, albeit casually: “We say we live in a functioning democracy and lie back until it’s true!” But there is also the realisation that lying holds us together.

The hard beats contributed by the black-clad musicians, the droning of the sounds support anti-aggression exercises and at the same time push the idea of having to gear up for an upcoming fight. In parallel, the images on the big screen change to show shots of human skin surface. That which we want to push far away hits us relentlessly and threatens us physically very close. But images of people also flash through your mind. People who are fighting for naked survival. Perhaps one or the other of the audience associates this with other things.

This fact alone shows that the theatrical universe of the aktionstheater ensemble reflects exactly that which corresponds to our current world of experience and feeling. We are surrounded by uncertainty and have to deal with questions for which we have no clear answers. At the same time, however, we are all allowed to feel privileged, each and every one of us who attends a performance. For the duration of about one and a half hours, we are allowed to experience again something that we have been missing. We get to experience something again that we didn’t know before how much we would actually miss one day: We experience a community that makes us laugh and marvel at the same time. We experience a community that makes us laugh and marvel at the same time, that makes us feel anger and plunges us into helplessness, from which we then rise again thanks to a clever dramaturgy. We are allowed to experience that people want and need people. The idea that theatre can’t achieve anything turns out to be an illusion. Fortunately for everyone involved – whether on or in front of the stage.

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Not for the faint-hearted

Not for the faint-hearted

Heiner Müller retranslated Shakespeare’s drama in the 1970s, but stayed very close to the story itself. The big difference is not only the language, which in Müller’s case – just as in Shakespeare’s – you first have to get used to. Müller shortens the story around the attainment of the royal crown of Scotland and thus creates a stronger focus on the horror of the events themselves. At the same time, however, he introduces another level of characters and refers to the serfdom of the peasants, their dependence on their masters, but also to their brutality, which is no different from that of the authorities.

Stephan Rottkamp proceeds similarly in his stage version. He also saves characters, which means a further condensation, and at the beginning he lets fog billow out of the cold storage of a slaughterhouse. Even the first character, a soldier who comes from the battle and reports on it, appears naked and bloody. The disturbance he causes, however, is only a small foretaste of what is to come.

Macbeth at the Schauspiehaus Graz (Photo: © Lex Karelly)
Although Scotland’s ruler, King Duncan, is dressed in fine cloth, one also recognises traces of blood on his legs and arms and begins to understand: He, who no longer has to take part in battles and only learns of the outcome from messengers, has built his power as much on murder and manslaughter as those who will follow after him. (Costumes Esther Geremus)

With an abstract but effective and very aesthetic stage set (Robert Schweer), it is possible to transfer the action from Duncan’s royal court to Macbeth’s castle in just a few moments. Large white cuboids stretching across the stage are raised and lowered to rhythmise the space.

The casting of Macbeth by Florian Köhler and Lady Macbeth, Sarah Sophia Meyer, visually creates a pair of opposites that nevertheless complement each other perfectly. Meyer manages to pull out many character stops without any great discernible emotion. She spans the spectrum from the power-obsessed whisperer of death to the frightened and retreating consort who begins to fear her own husband.

Florian Köhler’s Macbeth is neither a simple character nor a one-dimensional murderer. He vacillates between a hesitant, thoughtful man who is urged by his wife to murder the king and a character obsessed with power who does not shy away from having friends, as well as wives and children, murdered. The more the game progresses, the more he murders and has murders committed, the more unscrupulous he becomes. The permeability of Köhler’s play is particularly impressive. In a scene in which he treats his former friend Banquo as if he were far inferior to him, one senses a lot of humanity in Köhler alias Macbeth: pleasure and joy in the play on the one hand, but also pleasure and joy in a special kind of humiliation. That Macbeth is also capable of atrocities away from the battlefield becomes clear shortly after the play begins. There he tortures – with the active support of his wife – a peasant who cannot pay his taxes. It is one of the most brutal scenes of the production, for which one needs good nerves, or to keep one’s eyes closed until the screams of the tortured man fall silent. It is this realistic rendering, this bloodthirsty depiction of extreme brutality, that leaves one breathless. But there are also images like that of Macbeth, who as a stumbling king, wading in blood, loses his balance and falls to the ground again and again, slithering and swaying with his oversized ermine cape. Here, the emotion of the audience tips from disgust to pity, from hatred to empathy, which corresponds to an emotional roller coaster.

The action – except for the very last act – is accompanied throughout by sound and music. (Nikolas Neecke). Theatre has learned a lot from film in recent years and Rottkamp skilfully uses this additional layer to subtly intensify what is shown emotionally. With a classic of pop history – “Stuck in the middle with you” by the British pop band Stealers Wheel from the 1970s – the portrayal of Macbeth, his fear for the preservation of his unjustly acquired throne, is given a new drive. “I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair and I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs” is one of the lyrics from it. Not only do the lyrics seem like they were written for Macbeth, but the funny musical interlude is also well placed dramaturgically. For a short time, it relieves the audience of the heaviness of the blood-soaked story and allows a breather before the next murders are carried out by the two hired men, who are still dancing happily to the music with their king.

The fact that the end of Macbeth and his wife is shown without sound accompaniment causes a final, but all the more intense irritation. It gives the feeling that reality is now beginning to overtake the play. The death of Lady Macbeth is accompanied by a powerful image – she falls silently to the ground with her face covered in blood. But the spectacularly unspectacular exit of the king himself is just as unexpected as it is unconventional.

It is extremely painful that we find so many parallels in real political world events today. The theatre critic and dramaturge Martin Linzer described a similar experience in a 1983 issue of ‘Theater in der Zeit’. “Ten years after the writing of the text (note – the text by Heiner Müller is meant), the world is burning in many corners, the massacres in Beirut are happening before the eyes of the world, humanity is threatened by the madness of nuclear armament.” And a part of the very readable interview with Stephan Rottkamp, printed in the programme booklet, should also be quoted here: “We have enough despots who have seized power with a small clique and ruthlessly pursue their own goals. Of course, this will not be seen “one-to-one” on stage. But Assad, Orbán, Trump, such names naturally come up in the conversations during the rehearsal. The play is very topical in that it exposes these power mechanisms. They applied in Macbeth’s lifetime in the Middle Ages just as they did in Shakespeare’s time at the beginning of the 17th century. And they still apply today; it goes on and on. So it’s a noble duty to show that on stage today.”
While it is not a duty to see the play, if it is, it is imperative to talk about it and bring it to the attention of as many people as possible. You won’t see another Macbeth on a German-language stage any time soon that is more emotional and at the same time more intelligent, more contradictory and at the same time more coherent, more powerful in its imagery and more powerful in its sound.

The cast: DUNCAN, MACDUFF Alexej Lochmann, SOLDAT Oliver Chomik,LENNOX, 2nd MURDERER Henriette Blumenau MALCOLM, 1st MURDERER, HEXE Nanette Waidmann FLEANCE, LORD, HEXE Daria von Loewenich, ROSSE, SOLDAT, HEXE Frieder Langenberger

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The horror does not only take place in the theatre

The horror does not only take place in the theatre

Motionless, they lie and sit on a bed, in front of it, but also next to it on the stage floor. The room is white and seems sterile, except for a mess of journals and scraps of paper under the sleeping area. There are a total of seven young people who do not exchange a word with each other. While the audience is still looking for their seats, the young people remain motionless – until you finally realise that they are not people but life-size puppets. These are a trademark of the French-Austrian choreographer, artist and theatre director Gisèle Vienne. She studied puppetry at the École supérieure nationale des arts de la marionnette in Charleville-Mézières from 1996 to 1999 and used puppets as well as choreographic elements in her scenic works from the very beginning.

L’ÉTANG / DER TEICH was first performed at the Ruhrtriennale last year and had its Austrian premiere this year at the Wiener Festwochen. The play, based on a text by Robert Walser, as well as text passages by Vienne herself, was realised by the theatre-maker in a very idiosyncratic formal language. The two actresses, Adèle Haenel and Henrietta Wallberg, walk towards or away from each other – except for a few moments – in slow motion. Individual movements, such as lighting a cigarette, take what feels like eternities and produce a sense of time that people often experience in exceptional situations in which they are threatened. What lasts a few seconds in measured time stretches out indefinitely, while you know that bad things are happening at precisely these moments that you can no longer run away from.

It is precisely such moments that Vienne retells through Robert Walser’s characters. She transposes the story of Fritz, a teenager who pretends to drown himself so that his parents will finally take notice of him, into our present. Adèle Haenel slips into this role, but also into the roles of his sister and his brother. She does this in the same outfit, but with different voices. The fact that this change takes some getting used to at the beginning is intentional. It happens in a matter of seconds, especially when it comes to dialogue. But as the action progresses, one begins to better distinguish between the different characters. From her first appearance, Henrietta Wallberg gives the impression of being an extremely dominant mother whose parenting style largely involves beatings and harshness. The fact that she herself is a victim of violence in her marriage only becomes clear shortly before the end of the play.

The contemporary reference is not only achieved through the costumes (Gisèle Vienne, Camille Queval, Guillaume Dumont). In one scene it becomes clear that Fritz is getting high on drugs just so that “it will finally stop”. “It” is the abuse and corporal punishment to which he is subjected and against which he cannot defend himself. In addition, there is the poisoned climate between the siblings, who do not help each other, but rather each has to fight for his or her own place in the family.

A sophisticated lighting strategy (Yves Godin) constantly bathes the room in different colours. This – just like the slowing down of the movements and the background sound – has an almost hallucinogenic effect. This creates an illusion in which one is not sure whether what one sees is actually happening or whether it is rather traumatic memory fragments of Fritz. This is suggested by the last image, in which the mother – as at the beginning – enters the room in a threatening manner. The endless loop is opened, the horror to which Fritz is exposed seems to have no end.

The venue, the Jugendstiltheater am Steinhof, does the rest to further stimulate one’s own mental cinema. It is not only the memorial in front of the building that was erected for those children who were killed here in the area during the Nazi era. It is also the fact that one suddenly begins to suspect that only a few metres from the theatre there could be people who have to be treated here because of traumatic events in childhood and adolescence. The horror that is shown here on stage, it takes place in real life and spills out directly into the immediate environment. That it is not an individual fate that Fritz suffers is pointed out by the seven dolls, a fact that is only understood in retrospect. One after the other, they were carried from the stage to the offstage by a man in black leather gloves, completely emotionless. The lifting up of the lifeless bodies, as if they were heavy sacks, but also the black leather gloves, illustrate the power imbalance between the man and the young people.

Moments of disturbance, which repeatedly raise uncertainties in understanding what has just been shown, at the same time allow for highly empathetic moments of identification with Fritz. There is nothing in his world that he can hold on to, but much that deeply unbalances him.  Adèle Haenel’s intense acting and the fact that the youth ultimately descends into madness also contribute enormously to this.

L’ étang / the pond can be experienced on several levels. One can get involved with the piece exclusively emotionally and trace what the images, texts, music and sound do in oneself. But you can also analyse the scenes afterwards and come to the conclusion that something is being shown here that is not being talked about because such a thing “should not be”. Giséle Vienne succeeded in creating a work that is at the height of contemporary theatre aesthetics and impresses with intelligent direction and outstanding acting performances.

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