Why is this Shakespeare so unknown?
When the name Shakespeare comes to mind, most of us probably think of the royal dramas such as Lear, Macbeth or Hamlet. But to find someone who has seen Coriolanus, you have to search a long time. The theatre company “wortwiege” has just remedied this with its festival “Europa in Szene”. The theatre maker and professor of directing at the Max Reinhardt Seminar, Anna Maria Krassnigg, invited two former students of her directing class to the current festival edition to show their final projects. Azelia Opak dug deep into her research and, with an ensemble of young but already established actors and two members of the “wortwiege”, presents the rise and fall of the Roman patrician Coriolanus. It is the last Shakespeare work and is generally considered mature. Its varying interpretive authority may perhaps be to blame for the fact that it is not often performed.
Coriolanus, drilled for battle from childhood, applies for the office of Roman consul, pushed by his mother. He has sufficiently earned the merits for it; he could show more than 20 scars to the people, as was customary before taking office, in order to prove himself loyal to Rome. He could – if it were not for his indomitable pride. It is this pride that finally brings him down. A few centuries after Shakespeare, there will be a second character called Michael Kohlhaas who will be just as unbending as Coriolanus, even if the motive is different.
But until that happens, Opak shows Shakespeare’s characters in all their psychological differentiation: Coriolanus (Lukas Haas), the indomitable one, who for once does not remain true to his principles, but otherwise can be considered a stubborn man par excellance. It’s great how Haas can talk himself into a fury that is almost frightening. His mother Volumnia (Judith Richter), who, like today’s sports mothers, demands everything from her son in order to be able to bask in his glory. Menenius Agrippa (Jens Ole Schmieder), a member of the elite caste, who supports Coriolanus with well-meaning advice so as not to endanger his own position. Tullus Aufidius (Philipp Dornauer), Coriolanus’ multiple loser in battle, is just waiting to take revenge at the right moment. Despite his youth, Dornauer mimes a hot-blooded fighter, but puts a large portion of thoughtfulness before each of his actions. Junius Brutus (Paul Hüttinger), one of the first tribunes of the people, quickly learned how political intrigues work. Although his external attributes, such as a thick silver chain around his neck, indicate his closeness to the people, Hüttinger nevertheless imbues his tribune with a great deal of deviousness and cunning. Finally, Sicinius Velutus (Uwe Reichwaldt), second tribune of the people, who, in Opak’s direction, muddles his way through all dangerous situations like an Austrian civil servant-Slavin and has the audience’s sympathy on his side.
An extremely clever stage design (Felix Huber) separates the long stage space. A round revolving door – the front in gleaming gold, the back painted pitch black – indicates whether the action is taking place in Rome or with Rome’s enemy, the Volsces. After the last battle won, Coriolanus smears blood with his own hands on the large mirror in the stage apse, making it clear that his battles have cost more than just one human life.
The idea of accompanying the production with live music is not only great, but also makes dramaturgical sense. Boglarka Bako and Marie Schmidt repeatedly intonate Beethoven’s Coriolanus motif with slight variations on their string instruments. This also underlines those moments in which the patrician sees himself completely in his element as a popular leader and aristocratic ruler who takes the right to make his decisions without the people, whom he actually considers annoying and dispensable. The two musicians sit left and right at the back of the stage in such a way that they can be seen but do not disturb the play on the limited stage.
The production not only lives from the fact that it shows different views of a successful state and their respective representatives. The production also lives from strong, emotional moments, such as the one in which Coriolan’s mother throws herself on her knees before him and begs him for mercy for Rome. The way she clings to him shortly afterwards clearly shows the fateful connection between her and her son. Judith Richter remains indelibly in memory with this scene. But Jens Ole Schmieder also succeeds in showing what high acting is in an almost wordless performance. The way he pushes the tribunes to the side of the stage with short, disparaging snaps and doesn’t let them take their seats in the middle gets under your skin and makes him deeply despicable at this moment.
Who is good here and who is evil here is ultimately not really discernible. As in real life, there is no real black and no real white in this play. What remains is the realisation that politics used to be made by people, just as it is today. By people who, on the one hand, are where they are by virtue of their own will and, on the other hand, have conquered a place for themselves thanks to family or political networks, for which they are prepared to make personal sacrifices, but also to go over dead bodies.
The fact that the play seems to be made for the casemates in Wiener Neustadt is another plus point of the production. The other performances are framed by salon talks, but also a new format. With “speeches”, speeches by famous people are reenacted, which one usually only knows from hearsay. Another great artistic idea that illuminates the large field of “power”, which is ultimately the subject of “Szene Europa” in the casemates of Wiener Neustadt, from a different angle.
This article was translated with deepl.com