“Una imagen interior” by the Spanish theatre duo El Conde de Torrefiel, shown as part of the Vienna Festival at the Museumsquartier, is one of those rare productions in contemporary off-mainstream theatre that makes critics ask, like Hans Moser as a servant, “How do I do this one? Because no matter how you look at it, it is not easy to really do justice to the play.
The content is quickly recounted. During a visit to the Natural History Museum, which is marked on the stage, the first-person narrator deals extensively with the reproduction of a prehistoric cave painting. The text that forms in the art-viewing head is made visible to the audience by means of illuminated writing in English and German. The actors on stage were partly recruited from the Viennese population. None of them, not even the ensemble itself, has to speak anything. Nor do they dance. Like dream figures, they walk across the stage in a total of three scenes – each with different lighting – occasionally moving their lips.
At the beginning, a large painting on plastic, painted in the best drip-painting manner à la Jackson Pollock, is pulled up from the floor so that it is clearly visible filling the stage. It is a symbolic substitute for the prehistoric artefact that becomes the starting point for the intrinsic reflections. It can be seen from the lines that the painting surface has been folded up after the paint has been applied to create a mirrored shape. Women and men walk past it or stop in front of it to take a closer look. The soundtrack indicates that it was recorded in a large, echoing room, like those in the big museums on the Ring.
After a long enumeration of contemporary philosophical contributions to the subject of reality, as well as their perception and questioning, there is a change to a supermarket ambience. There, the shoppers stroll along imaginary shelves and talk to each other at most when they apparently cannot find a product.
During this defile, the realisation develops that man can only be brought back to his original existence beyond technical civilisation by dropping a bomb. A realisation that will culminate in an idealised Rousseauian idea of happiness at the end of the play. For Tanya Beyeler and Pablo Gisbert, the masterminds of El Conde de Torrefiel, back to nature apparently means back to a humanity in which it is once again worthwhile to live in a happy community.
But until this promise of salvation becomes clear to the audience, loud sound recordings with such rhythmic bass vibrations are played in a dystopian scenic arrangement that these vibrations, which are transmitted to the tiers of seats, become physically palpable. The clanging and crashing, the roaring and pounding imitates an apocalyptic moment that precedes the restored happiness on earth. It is amplified with a bright spotlight that dazzles into the audience, so that no visual stimulus can disturb the auditory monster action during the sound collage.
Gone, however, are the days when consumerists indulged in the shopping frenzy on their own. If the supermarket trolley-pushing scene before seemed endless, the post-apocalyptic one after that is similar. The survivors of the GAU either come together in a small group to talk to each other or to indulge in minimal, dancing movements, or they camp around an artificial, electrified fireplace. All back to the beginning, so to speak. Only an implied “dance around a golden calf” – in the form of a large gold lump, points out that even after a process of near extinction, man’s desires will not change.
That the end of the production would end with a painting of a white plastic tarpaulin was clear from that moment when it was spread out on the floor. The coloured on-the-canvas dripping becomes a communal experience in which instructions are given by hand signals or approval is given by nodding one’s head. Even the folding up to create the mirror effect that the first picture presented had been, not to be missed.
So much for the retelling part of “And imagen interior” – the picture inside.
The production gave the impression that reaching into the magic box of post-dramatic theatre only worked to a limited extent in this play development with a regional reference. There was too much of an effort to try and cramp all the ingredients of success that make up such a format. The feeling arose that the approach was that of a tally list to be worked through, such as: Local audience participation – we have; involvement of a well-known local cultural institution – we have; embedding our ideas in a pseudo-scientific framework – we have; borderline between theatrical events and musical performance – we have; audience irritation (note: supposed audience irritation) through backlighting – we have. But in all this, we simply forgot what really makes good theatre: to convey a story or ideas to the audience in such a way that they are emotionally touched. Conclusion: More heart and less head would have done the performance just as much good as the omission of a clichéd, childish idea of a happy life together in this world, in a supposed state of nature.
The fact that there is no text printed in the audience flyer under the motto ‘paperless read on!’ but only a QR code from which one can find a text, a portrait of the group, as well as a short video interview, is hopefully the exception and not the rule for future programme notes.
The article was translated automatically with deepl.com