by Marius von Mayenburg translated by Maja Zade
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 1) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 3 May 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 April.
Production finds some of a provocative play’s measure.
Unmatched among accounts of the search for the City of Gold, Eldorado, is Werner Herzog’s 1970s film Aguirre, Wrath of God. The director’s determination and the star Klaus Kinski’s intensity make the search through South America’s inhospitable rainforest a matter of madness as much as cupidity.
Marius von Mayenburg’s 2004 play is more controlled, laced with dialogue on the borderland of high comedy and absurdism (and showing how closely those two can teeter together). But there’s another sort of desperation than Aguirre’s at work.
The golden city has become a golden prospect following unidentified military destruction. War leads to business opportunities, as Aschenbrenner explains in the extended speeches promoting opportunities to buy land which frame the play. And, in Simon Dormandy’s Arcola production, by the end there are visual hints the retreat to paradise – which is how the land concerned is being promoted – means ultimate alienation from this world into some space in space.
Within this, the relationships and implied action (there’s more talking than doing here) create a series of situations which Dormandy’s production handles efficiently, even if it seems to invite interpretation more actively than the play itself, where a dead character knocks and shouts for release from a cupboard, and where a talented piano student suddenly gives-up on her teacher, saying she can no longer learn anything from her.
Everything – business, music – provides images of self-interest, but moment-by-moment decoding interrupts perception of the cumulative picture. This world seems strange to us, as it becomes estranged for its occupants, because its pursuit of personal gain, by investment, crooked dealing or warfare is strange, looked at in any rational light. Only, possibly, cultivation of one’s garden offers an escape from competitive pressures.
And, of course, at the same time it seems to offer a wealthy few the chance to buy their personal Shangri-La, it makes any real city, or age, of gold ever more distant.
Decently, if rarely excitingly, performed (Sian Thomas the inevitable exception to anything routine), it is starkly staged by designer Georgia Lowe, doubtless within a limited budget but not entirely to its artistic gain.
Oscar: Nicholas Bishop.
Anton: Michael Colgan.
Manuela: Eva Feiler.
Thekla: Amanda Hale.
Greta: Sian Thomas.
Aschenbrenner: Mark Tandy.
Director: Simon Dormandy.
Designer: Georgia Lowe.
Lighting: Matthew Evered.
Sound: Davis Gregory.