It’s that early evening time again, and Stephen Chester looks at the controversial career and unusual politics of Hans
J iirgen Syberberg.
‘Controversial‘ is not a tag which does full justice to the life and work of Hans J iirgen Syberberg. Despite being denounced in a leading German newspaper as ‘proudly nostalgic for the Hitler Youth’ after blaming the ‘obscurity and marginalism’ of postwar art on a ‘deadly alliance between the Left and the .lews', his work has nevertheless found favour with intellectuals. Susan Sontag, for instance, addressed the question of whether he manages to combine Romanticism with Marxist aesthetics, ‘to offer a possible resolution to the crisis of
post-modern artistic practice‘. For others, the question raised by a man who once locked himself in his house to avoid the noise of traffic and the sight of plastic tables is, How Weird Is This Man?
The performance of his latest work at the International Festival may offer an insight into both these issues. While Syberberg has gained most notoriety as a film director (a major retrospective of his work is
being shown at the Film Festival) most of his productions originated as theatre pieces before gaining the cash to turn them into celluloid.
Syberberg’s plays are both spectacles and intellectual challenges; if you fail to spot the allusions (and Kleist, Goethe and Euripides are just some of the texts quoted in the play) then you can still enjoy ‘the total work of art’ created through back projection, music and outlandish sets; a previous work was set entirely within Wagner’s death mask.
His current play structures his usual concerns about German destiny, the death of European civilisation and kitsch around the figure of Countess Von Bismarck, played by favoured collaborator Edith Clever, who waits in her deserted house for the arrival of the Red Army at the end of the Second World War.
However, do not be fooled by the seeming simplicity of this synopsis; never the most accessible of artists, the play is to be performed entirely in German and an English translation provided with the tickets. I Eln Traum, Was Sonst? (A Dream, What Else?) (International Festival) Hans Jiirgen Syberberg/Edith Clever, King‘s Theatre, 225 5756, 21—22 Aug. 7.30pm. £5—£15.
maim- Director as
Horizontal Eight brings together Canadian actors under a Russian director to perform the work of a Belgian dramatist.
A baroque comedy, which moulds two separate pieces by Belgian’s foremost inter-war dramatist, Michele de Gherode, seems an appropriate choice for the avant-garde Horizontal Eight. ‘lt’s not a rational piece so it shouldn't be approached with a rational frame oi mind,‘ says actor Anita McFarlane.
The driving force behind the company is director Vladimir Mirzoev, a graduate from the Moscow Arts Theatre. He has had a colourful career, first having his work banned in pre-Glasnost Russia, then winning instant acclaim from the Moscow press with shows alter the Russian Spring, before emigrating to Toronto, where he has earned an enviable reputation for his experimentation with classics by Chekhov, Wilde and Strindberg. ‘His philosophy is to choose very strong rich
text to work with,’ says McFarlane. ‘What he tends to do with the text is to bring out the subtext and find other levels of meaning. All of a sudden he‘ll take the smallest stuff that is in there, pull it out and locus on that.‘
The play follows three actors who rebel against their author, driving him to suicide, only to find themselves lost without him, wandering aimlessly between heaven and earth. ‘lt's about the border between reality and daily life: what is real and what isn’t real, and how we deal with our realities daily,‘ McFarlane pauses, then laughs.
‘That’s pretty vague isn‘t it?’
It is, but then the play is pretty stylised — characters appear on stilts, some wear bondage gear, McFarlane herself wears an old wedding dress, and Mirzoev innovates with visual effects and choreography within the play‘s ‘bizarre’ structure. ‘A Moscow critic once said about Vladimirthat he wasn’t a theatre director he was an artist. And I think that‘s quite apt,‘ suggests McFarlane. Mirzoev also pushes his actors, encouraging improvisation from one show to the next, so that the production is never a complete entity. ‘Working with him is marvellous, but difficult,’ says McFarlane, ‘he always wants very high
.levels of energy from us.‘
This is the company‘s lirst time at the Fringe, but it almost didn‘t make it after
its administrator ran off, leaving
I everyone in the lurch. But luckily there 5 were white knights waiting in the
.u wings. ‘It was a blessing in disguise,‘
says McFarlane. ‘Canada House has given us a grant, and Ontario House is helping us with the promotion. And hopeluliy there‘ll be a reception for us, which is wonderful!‘ (Robert Alstead)
Three Actors and Their Drama and the Blind Men (Fringe) Horizontal Eight, Demarco Gallery (Venue 22) 557 0707, 24 Aug-5 Sept, 7.30pm, £5.50 (£3.50).
Mark Fisher bolts his tea to get out to live early-evening smashes.
I Real-Time A heady concoction of movement and melancholy at Eva’s Bar in Tel Aviv. Entrancing.
Real Time (Fringe) Tmu-Na, Richard Demarco Gallery and Theatre (Venue 22) 5570707, until 29 Aug (not Sun), 6pm, £5 (£3.50).
I Fuente Dveiuna Declan Donnellan directs an accessible, colourful and pacy production of Lope de Vega’s real-life drama for the National . Fuente Ovejuna ( International Festival) Royal National Theatre, Assembly Hall, 225 5756, unti15 Sept, 7.30pm (Sat8.30pm), £5—£15. I The Chinese State Circus Rare visit from a troupe which has been polishing its act for 2000 years. Billy Smart it is not.
The Chinese State Circus (Fringe) Assembly at The Meadows (Venue 116) 229 9281, until 6 Sept, 7.15pm, £10—£8 (£8—£6).
I The Devil and Billy Markham Stephen Frost — he of the Carling Black Label Ad and the Oblivion Boys - in a raunchy. bluesy reworking of Faust. Music. Americana and gags.
Stephen Frost in the Devil and Billy Markham (Fringe) Comedy Allstars, The Gilded Balloon ( Venue38) 226 2151, until5 Sept. 6pm. £6 ([550). I Revelations- the Testament oi Salome Susannah York makes her directorial debut in a dance-theatre staging of the events leading to the death ofJohn the Baptist. Salome takes centre stage in a secular re-interpretation.
Revelations - the Testament of Salome (Fringe) ('irtrtalmr. Traverse Theatre (Venue I5) 228 I404. until 5 Sept, various times, [6.17. J
The List 21 - 27 August i 9132 35