Frankenstein’s creature at the foot of the Salzburg Fortress

Frankenstein’s creature at the foot of the Salzburg Fortress

The Schauspielhaus, which overlooks the back of the Feste Salzburg, can almost be described as an insider tip. Although it is the largest independent theatre with a fixed ensemble, it surprisingly does not really get much attention beyond the region. Wrongly so. Because it offers a great variety of productions with currently 10 premieres per season. The second production this season, “Frankenstein”, is the responsibility of Jérôme Junod, the current theatre director and head dramaturge. He made his debut at the theatre last year with “King Arthur”, his own new version of the historical material. Due to a lockdown, this remarkable production was unfortunately only performed a few times. Now he has written his own stage version of Mary Shelley’s play, which was written in 1816, and given it a very special, novel drive.

The story can be imagined metaphorically like a Russian matryoshka doll – as a play, in a play, in a play. One after the other, different narrative strands develop, starting and ending with Roberta Walton. This one – richly endowed with male dominance – is an adventurer of the purest water who wants to reach the North Pole with a small crew on her own ship. Petra Staduan embodies not only this female free spirit, but just as magnificently the condemned Justine in the penitential lift, as well as the rebellious Agatha, who denounces the inequality between rich and poor. As Walton, she is almost constantly present on stage and listens to the stories of the young Victor Frankenstein.

The latter, rescued by her from the Nordic ice hell, tells her about his youth and study years at the university in Ingolstadt under the dominance of two cranky professors. These supported him to the point of absolute self-sacrifice in his endeavour to turn dead matter into living matter and create an artificial human being. Antony Connor and Olaf Salzer have the laughs on their side in these delightfully created roles. They also prove their comedic talent as sailors and switch just as skilfully to the serious characters of Frankenstein’s father and a blind revolutionary.

Wolfgang Kandler embodies the inquisitive young scientist who soon has to realise what misfortune he has brought upon his and his family’s lives with the creation of his “creature”. Magdalena Oettl in the role of Elisabeth, his fiancée, also frames the narrative as a new character introduced by Junod, Margaret Saville, a society columnist who is allowed to experience an amazing character development. Paul Andre Worms’s main character, Henry, childhood friend of Victor Frankenstein, is his complete opposite not only in terms of character structure but also visually. Cheerful and fun-loving, helpful and open, he is nevertheless murdered by Frankenstein’s monster out of a thirst for revenge.

Except for the very last scene, the latter appears in black, tight-fitting trousers with a large, black hooded jumper in such a way that one can hardly make out his face. (Costumes Antoaneta Stereva) Hussan Nimr, as Frankenstein’s creature, is permanently in motion, with a dark, threatening voice, and makes his unnatural origins clear through his animal-like movements. He makes off on all fours, he climbs nimbly onto scaffolding and usually stands with his head bowed while he tries to tell his story. It is the ambivalence of this character and, above all, the recognition of why he himself has become a monster, which is very touching and gives the story in the Schauspielhaus in Salzburg its very own colouring. Bernhard Eder provides live musical accompaniment to the action, both vocally and on electric guitar and electronics, thus lending it additional emotional moments.

Junod’s interpretation of “Frankenstein” does not rely on horror effects and the generation of goose bumps in the first place. Instead, it impresses with a finely crafted psychogram of an outsider whose greatest shortcoming is his loneliness, which he tries to sublimate through feelings of revenge and thus becomes a mass murderer. A successful evening of theatre in an autumn in which world history is unfortunately teeming with monsters.

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Why is this Shakespeare so unknown?

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.

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Coriolanus (Photo: Julia Kampichler)

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.

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When the risotto starts to smell

When the risotto starts to smell

The ‘Musiktheatertage Wien’ programme by Thomas Cornelius Desi and Georg Steker offers the audience an almost breathtaking range of different performances. This is shown alone by the two thematically diametrically opposed productions “Chornobyldorf” and ‘European Kitchen Encounters: VR-Bania’.

This ‘virtual reality project with taste’, as the subtitle says, comes from Austrian director Carmen C. Kruse and Italian composer Manuel Zwerger. They travelled to the Italian town of Verbania on Lake Maggiore and interviewed different residents on the subject of food. The interviews were edited into small sequences that could be seen with the VR glasses just like the preparation of a risotto – to be precise, a “risotto giallo con salciccia”, cooked by the performer Anna Piroli. She was supported by Leo Morello with a fine soundscape in which one could hear the scraping of the knife on the wooden board just as alienated as the rhythmic trickling of the rice grains into the pot. Snarling, vibrating, tapping, he supported Piroli with all kinds of percussion instruments, just as silent film music was made in the old days. The only difference was that the auditory repertoire was much more contemporary.

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VR-Bania (Photo: Nick-Mangafas)

The audience was invited to follow the cooking procedure as well as the interviews with movements on the swivel chairs on which they had been placed. The highlight of the performance, however, was that while the videos were being played in the kitchenette of the WUK behind the audience, this dish was actually being prepared, and thus the olfactory events merged with the videographed ones to form a live experience.

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VR-Bania (Photo: Nick-Mangafas)

The subsequent dinner with the director and the composer provided an opportunity to talk not only about what had been seen, but also about what had gone before. This part in particular should be emphasised, because it is the experience of togetherness that one cannot feel while wearing the VR glasses that gave the performance its real spice. It is what audiences need now more than ever when they are exposed to theatre experiences. Videos, feature films or recorded plays can be watched post Corona in droves in front of the video screen at home. The conversation with people you don’t know, but who at least have a common denominator – the desire for theatre – this conversation and this exchange cannot be replaced, but should be intensified – as exemplified in this production.

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Only stagnation means freedom

Only stagnation means freedom

Imagine your radius of experience is limited to four walls and you don’t mind at all, you even find it comfortable. Imagine you have your own assistant who takes care of everything for you. Call her Isadora and talk to her like your best friend. Imagine that everything is so conveniently arranged for you that you can even receive friends at the virtual lunch table. Imagine you are completely independent of the outside world and happy as can be – only you never go outside because you are afraid of it.

This is exactly the setting Caroline Peters offered with the Ledwald group in the play “Die Maschine steht nicht still”. The production is a paraphrase of a text by E.M. Forster’s “The machine stops” from 1909 and was created as a reaction to the pandemic in which most of us became much more dependent on computers and the internet.

Amazing visuals by Eric Dunlap, a permanent live camera guide by Andrea Gabriel (also responsible for recorded videos) and a perfectly coordinated light and sound design by Lars Deutrich add an electronic layer to the performance that is not only absolutely zeitgeisty, but also makes sense here. The text, adapted by Caroline Peters, tells of a woman who receives a call from her father one day. Like her, he lives 2.5 km away from her in a setting like the one described above, wants to tell her something and asks her to take to the road and come to him not just virtually but in the flesh.

This initial situation puts his daughter in a quandary, as she is supposed to leave her protective environment against all orders and go into a terrain of which she has no idea what awaits her there. Mindcontrol has progressed so far that any experiment outside of one’s own four walls no longer seems desirable and the maxim applies: standstill is progress and what I don’t try can’t go wrong. Towards the end, however, the daughter actually succeeds in freeing herself from her monitoring companion Isadora, who immediately invites comparison with Alexa, Siri or other currently active electronic helpers. In addition to the description of everyday life, which Peters renders with high acting skill, whether it is a cooking recipe she wants Isadora to implement, taking voice calls or watching video lectures, she is fascinating in multiple roles in the scene at the table with her invited friends. They have all been recorded by her beforehand and, at the push of a button, gather around the laid table in virtual space to – as is familiar from real life – show off, look frightened, be amazed or be admired, just like the respective characters.

Lars Deutrich on the electronic sound machine and Andrea Gabriel in the role of the mute Isadora, who captures everything with her live camera and also saves it, are permanently present on stage. Both Peters and Gabriel wear poison-green costumes with a spider pattern – a symbol of imprisonment in the web, which is nevertheless perceived as chic and essential. (Costumes Flora Miranda) It is not only the illusionistic setting that impresses, but also the text, which has a whole series of dazzling sentence pearls such as: “Since the pandemic, we know that viruses and technology grow exponentially”, “Knowledge is a kind of fiction”, “Deep Intelligence is also just another kind of cheating” or “To time its loop, to the loop its freedom” – a rewrite of the Hevesi slogan emblazoned over the Vienna Secession. These are just a few, few statements that one would like to read at home because of the further abundance of philosophical ideas, bon mots and visions of the future.

The clever, open ending leaves a taste of relief and fear at the same time and in no way glosses over the digital future we already find ourselves in.

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An animal election campaign

An animal election campaign

Designed as a “walk for the figure”, it invites the audience to move from the backyard of the theatre to the Arne Karlsson Park opposite with a conferencier. There, at various stations, it discovered a whole series of animal figures who prove to be election candidates with flaming speeches.

The monkey Sunni, awarded such numerous titles that in the end there is nothing left to do but address him as Sunni only, releases the audience with their companion Markus-Peter Gössler into the wild. There they meet a Cheshire Cat, under whose guidance the candidates for the election can be tracked down.

A rat from the underground brandishes a flaming speech against the injustice with which the nimble squirrels are favoured over them. A mysterious rabbit entertains the audience with equally mysterious election promises, who after questioning them know as little about themselves as they did before. Two ancient maggots try to win their clientele over to their side with poppy sounds – much to the amusement of children present, who have broken away from their game and enjoy the unexpected maggot spectacle. And finally, a former general in the guise of a boar offers meat loaf to the interested electorate present, to be able to increase the protection of his homeland with their votes.

For all those who belong to the regular audience of the Schubert Theatre, the little trip is also a wonderful opportunity to see the individual characters again. The two fat, greedy maggots had their big appearance in never-never land XX, the rat beast likewise in Ochkatzlschwoaf. The Ebergeneral comes from the play Go West! And the white rabbit was in ALICE.

Whether you join the little tour as a newcomer or as an old acquaintance, however, makes no difference. The joy of puppetry and its well-known secret, that the people who serve them disappear behind them and yet remain visible, is always the same.

Directed by Simon Meusburger, Soffi Povo, Angelo Konzett and Markus-Peter Gössler merge with their puppets and yet remain visible in their likeable acting performance.

Further dates every June weekend, Saturdays 2:30 & 5:30 pm, Sundays 11:00 & 3 pm.

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Quo vaditis, Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams?

Quo vaditis, Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams?

There was a time when some of her formulated thoughts made your heart stop almost every minute. There was a time when you knew: Wherever Rabtaldirndl is written, there is wit, esprit and intelligence inside. Rebelliousness and demonstrative self-empowerment, but also intelligent questions about the female state of mind ran light-footedly alongside the great plot of the chosen title. Whether jam was refined into a “golden sentence” or one was allowed to litigate in the open behind the “Uschi Kümmernis”, the flashes of inspiration always sparkled and the ensemble always encouraged reflection and rethinking.

The name Toxic dreams stands for unconventional theatre experiences. It stands for putting social conditions in a theatrical light that reveals what seems almost unspeakable without it.

In the production “The unreal Housewife of Vienna vs. The unreal Housewives of Graz”, the two companies joined forces to address the topic of “wealthy housewives”. The reality format “The real housewives” served as a model for this, in which the audience is allowed to look into the supposed inner but also outer life of the rich and beautiful.

The current production, directed by Yosi Wanunu, the artistic director of toxic dreams and an experienced theatre man, cannot really live up to the expectations of this collaboration. This circumstance has several causes. Translating a TV format into theatre is no easy task, especially since there are already stage parodies for this series in particular.
Secondly, it may be that one or the other finds it entertaining to see women psychologically unmasking themselves and going at each other like crows. But this kind of entertainment did not really sweep the audience present from their seats.

Thirdly, there is the question of the sense of juxtaposing Viennese and Graz women’s cliques from the wealthy milieu and having them compete against each other in a showdown like in an arena. The black and white big-city elegance, versus the colourful, fashionable costume, makes it clear which shark women are in charge here internationally and which are national at most. Whereby the costumes by Susanne Bisovsky, a Viennese fashion great, are the absolute highlights of the production. The fact that the Graz women define themselves more about their possessions and rant about them, while the Viennese women indulge in more introspection right from the start, but then also make disparaging remarks about what they hear in each case – this difference alone does not make the evening exciting.

Whether it’s the chic white interior of a Ruckerlberg villa or the dignified brown leather sofas in a flat with a view of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (stage: Götz Bury, Paul Horn), whether the ladies dress up in tennis outfits or sauna coats – the navel-gazing of Graz’s haute volee or Vienna’s high society tires relatively quickly. Possibly this feeling was also intensified by the permanently rising heat in the hall of the Kristallwerk.

The musical interludes that are performed live towards the end don’t help either. The text that is used does not reflect anything other than what one has already experienced before. Whoever is rich and beautiful can get away with anything, whoever is rich and beautiful, no matter how he or she got there, only needs to care about others for the sake of form. And – not to forget: Those who are rich and beautiful suffer from their meaningless lives. One suffers a little more, the other a little less, but it’s not easy for them either!

What is missing is the biting wit that can expose socially toxic structures that are geared exclusively to the principle of my house, my car, my yacht. What is missing is linguistic finesse, for which the Rabtaldirndln in particular stand. Their Styrian dialect chunks, often thrown down so casually, are usually far superior to High German in their conciseness and turn many a supposed aside into a long sparkling, intellectual diamond.
But there is also a lack of feeling for how many platitudes a text can take without ending up in boredom, repetition and predictability.

In short, what is missing is that moment when the spark jumps over to the audience and ignites their emotions. Those who belong to the section of the population that is targeted here with not particularly suitable means will not really feel addressed. And if they do, they will fiercely resist it in a kind of defensive position. Those who are not part of the chic scene should not expect any profound psychological insights into the ladies who are embodied on stage. The text offers them all too little personal contour for one to be able to identify with them.

The second series of plays will take place at the brut in Vienna from autumn. Perhaps there will be adaptations by then that will make a visit seem more worthwhile. Slips are allowed and are part of the theatre business. “The unreal Housewife of Vienna vs. The unreal Housewives of Graz” should in no way contribute to not visiting the upcoming productions of the Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams. The focus on their own core competences and, above all, on exciting themes will certainly provide the audience with interesting and highly emotional theatre evenings again.

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