by Thomas Bernhard translated by Meredith Oakes and Andrea Tierney.
Arcola Theatre 27 Arcola Theatre E8 2DJ To 6 March 2010.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat 20, 27 Feb 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 February.
Theatre of voluble protest.
“Minna which so relentlessly tries to be funny,” says someone in Thomas Bernhard’s final play, from the year before his death in 1989. The character’s criticising 18th-century German drama Minna von Barnhelm. Bernhard’s play hasn’t any laughs, but scores high on being relentless. Bernhard lived in Germany and Austria, for which the only thing lacking in his love/hate relationship was any love.
A bowlful of bile poured over Austria, it’s set in 1988 after the death of a Professor Shuster. There’s the rearrangement of his possessions – shirts his housekeeper records had to be folded just so, shoes obsessively dusted-off; the final family meal in the house no-one ever liked, with its window overlooking the Viennese square of the title, where Austrians greeted Hitler’s arrival fifty years before.
Cold light (designer: Ben Payne) pours onto a sparsely-set space through the isolated window that’s the main feature of Iona McLeish’s design. Characters in funereal black intensify the frosty atmosphere. There’s little action and much talk. The relentless feel is increased by directors Annie Castledine and Annabel Arden hold-backing (probably inevitably) the interval till after the second of the three long sections.
Before, there have been two and three character scenes, latterly set in a park suggested by an ice-like, pond-shaped surface and a relative distantly glimpsed in a spot of light, his arrival occasioning further recriminations. Afterwards, everyone joins in a final meal, the room seeming colder as they sit at a long table, robotically drinking soup while the sounds of crowds cheering Hitler make a ghostly return.
The relentlessness is demanding, but without it Bernhard wouldn’t be Bernhard. He attacks an audience’s consciousness with the clenched fist of an obsession at least as great as his cultured characters’, with their equal distaste for the past and of Germanic culture.
Acted with disciplined astringency (Barbara Marten and Jane Maud especially strong), Castledine and Arden’s production is bleak and remorseless, impressive and (in two senses) tough, frustrating and impressive, while their use of battered suitcases and an opening crush to board a train makes clear the guilt of anti-semitism hanging over Bernhard’s play.
Herta: Hannah Boyde.
Pfofessror Liebig: Paul Brightwell.
Hherr Landauer: Daniel Curshen.
Lukas: Andrew Hawkins.
Olga: Caroline Horton.
The Frau Professor:Petra Markham.
Frau Zittel: Barbara Marten.
Anna: Jane Maud.
Professor Robert: Clive Mendus.
Frau Liebig: Holly Strickland.
Directors: Annie Castledine, Annabel Arden.
Designer: Iona McLeish.
Lighting: Ben Payne.
Sound: Andrew Pontzen.
Associate director: Delyth Jones
Assistant director: Tarek Iskander.