by Max Frisch translated by Michael Bullock.
Revived at Arcola Theatre (Arcola 1) To 21 January 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 November 2011 at White Bear Theatre.
Disturbing play in energetic production.
It caused riots in Germany at its 1951 premiere, is still banned, it seems, in Paris and doesn’t give anyone an easy time. It was on National Theatre literary manager Kenneth Tynan’s 1960s list of plays the National should do. They didn’t, but now Cerberus Theatre presents Swiss writer Max Frisch’s mix of realism and fantasy at Kennington’s White Bear.
Two years before Frisch’s middle-class Everyman, Biedermann, let The Fire Raisers burn his house though disabling reticence, Count Oederland took a fiercer line. Conformity has pressurised a bank-clerk to kill. But it’s the public prosecutor, up late at night preparing the case against this murderer, who snaps, apparently becoming the legendary Count, whose bravura escapades are themselves murderous.
Taking on all comers in modern society, his axe in his briefcase, the mention of his name able to terrify, it’s only when he’s reminded of his real-life that the prosecutor falters. When the end is nigh, Frisch seems to let audiences off the hook by suggesting all the escapades, up to violent revolution bursting from the sewers, have been a dream.
But he’s shrewder than that. Various possibilities coexist in the Prosecutor’s mind, and the play goes far beyond the frequently-told story of the suburban little-man going AWOL for a time then coming back to mundane reality.
Unrefined aspects in the acting are greatly offset by being able to see the play at all, let alone in Christopher Loscher’s energetic production, its scenes linked by Philippa Herrick’s score, pounding and plucking a musical phrase built from the rhythm of ‘Count Oederland’ as sung in a young servant’s vigorous ballad describing the Count as the bringer of freedom. Its volume and energy track the rise and fall of the action.
Mike Lees’ bare white tilted platform design perfectly reflects the play’s shifts and intermixed reality and fairytale, while Loscher handles the gradual expansion of scenes from two characters to larger groups confidently. And his production makes starkly clear the Prosecutor’s final predicament, one that crushingly shows how even a popular revolutionary achieving power eventually faces the choice between two sorts of self-sacrifice.
Hilde/Inge/Coco: Evelyn Adams.
Elsa/Foreign Journalist: Natasha Alderslade.
Murderer/Convict/Upholder of Culture: Christopher Birks.
Clairvoyant/Gendarme/Director: Barra Collins.
Warder/Student/Page/Waiter: Sebastian Cornelius.
Mother/Minister of the Interior: Nesba Crenshaw.
Father/Inspector/President: Davis Meyer.
Taxi Driver/General: Joe Riley.
Prosecutor: Neil Sheppeck.
Concierge/Upholder of Culture/Frau Hoffmeier: Katerina Stearman.
Dr Hahn/Foreign Journalist: Jacob Trenerry.
Director: Christopher Loscher.
Designer: Mike Lees.
Lighting: Vivienne Clavering.
Sound: Philippa Herrick.
Assistant director: Peta Dyce.