Edinburgh Int Festival: The Notebook & The Proof: Old Masters: Royal Lyceum

Edinburgh International Festival 2001

Review: Timothy Ramsden


Royal Lyceum Theatre

De Onderneming, Antwerp 20-25 August.

Performing in English De Onderneming (‘The Enterprise’) offer two 90 minute minimalist plays drawn from a novel trilogy by Hungarian Agota Kristof. War-torn central Europe is the unsettled background for both.

The Notebook, about twin brother evacuees, would be the more conventional were it not for the narrative performance style. The four performers (Robby Cleiren, Gunther Lesage, Ryszard Turbiasz and Carly Wijs) play kaleidoscopically, cross-gender where needed, with the two brothers picked out in anonymous white vests and shorts.

They have an unsettling, knowing quality, a ruthlessness to others that’s reflected in the deliberate way they harden themselves against the hostilities they know to expect. Life for them is pure reason, even when it’s most irrational; it’s what can be recorded in the notebooks they persistently use as a stockade against chaos.

This way they iron experience into two-dimensional unreality, reflected in the rapid, apparently low-key acting style. Their plans and actions alike spill out in an unreflective, emotionless stream. Without the precision and detail the ensemble bring to their playing the performance would dwindle to a rehearsal word-run.

The Proof takes up events post-war in a land where such a time brings not reunion and reconstruction but separation, loss and memory adjustment. Things fall even further apart. The twins are now in separate lands. When they meet it is only to question their very identities. Through its relentless pace and fluidity of character and location, the playing repeatedly pitches the audience into new angles, often with a purposely loose grip on what’s what and even who is who.

After years of large-scale, sometimes otiose foreign theatre, this year’s Edinburgh drama programme is showing how small is still beautiful. Whether the Lyceum’s gilt formality is the best surround for this urgent drama is questionable; De Onderneming’s place in the Festival is not.


by Thomas Bernhard

Royal Lyceum Theatre 27-28 August.

Burgtheater, Vienna

Following the Belgians last week, the Royal Lyceum again hosts a four-strong European ensemble adapting a novel. Thomas Bernhard, scourge of just about everything he came into contact with, has been occasionally seen in London, at the National and the Gate. But this adaptation of his Old Masters by Stephan Muller and Claudia Hamm, acted with tact and clarity by Urs Hefti, Hanspeter Muller, Edmund Telgenkamper and Adrian Furrer, is welcome.

Its art gallery setting fits the Lyceum neatly. There are no characters, or several; or, in a sense just one amorphous memory of a dead music critic, Reger, whose regular visits to the gallery focused on Tintoretto’s Man With White Beard. Reger’s life was, in a sense, bounded by this picture. He met his wife sitting in front of it, and his protégé Atzbacher. And he spilled out his thoughts to the gallery attendant Irrsigler, a man who took the job because it was safer than being a policeman yet still gave him a uniform on the city.

At times the actors become separate characters (apparently rival biographers) but they can also seem distillations of the same parasitic spirit vulturing over a dead man’s life.
The impact is satirical but the adapter-directors also ensure a comic quotient made out of itchily fussy mannerisms and clowning. There’s water chucked in one character’s face and even business with the four varied grey beards the actors don at one point. And the punch line takes Reger to the Burgtheater where, we’re told, the performance was dreadful.

Surely not.

The Burgtheater also perform Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’, directed by Luc Bondy, at The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh to 1 September, 7.30pm (6.30pm on 1 September). Tickets: 0131 473 2000

2001-08-30 21:48:53

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