Can you make a preliminary reading of the text? This taboo-breaking was actually overdue. The meta-message of “I love you mother” – which is now being uttered in an inflationary manner on Mother’s Day – perpetuates an image of the mother that in many cases is purely a façade. There are countless children who have experienced physical or even psychological suffering at the hands of their mothers – but no one talks about it. Except for the “great savage” of contemporary theatre, Angélica Liddell. In her latest production, “Todo el cielo sobre la tierra” (El sindrome de Wendy), she pushes all the mothers off their supposed throne, which they have ascended qua the birth of their children, and shouts at them that there is no reason for them to claim a “dignity surcharge” for themselves.
What may sound a bit theoretical in these lines is not grey theory at all on stage at the Museumsquartier in Vienna. On the contrary, the work commissioned by the Wiener Festwochen 2013 really gets down to business there. Angélica Liddell is known for not hiding her emotions in a pent-up state, but on the contrary for really “letting it all hang out” on stage. If she were to verbally vomit out on the street or among friends all the weariness that she unleashes on the audience in the theatre, one would probably take a few steps back from her. In the theatre, however, you are supposedly sitting safely in your seat at some distance. The safety, however, is limited to physical integrity. Liddell raises her hand against no one – but she shoots her arrows of words at anyone and everyone who can hear her furious tirades. No one is exempt, as she makes it clear that she hates all people, especially crowds, and that it is only exceptional people, those who stand out from the crowd, who interest her. With her keen powers of observation, she scrapes all the social cement from the seams of interpersonal behaviour and relentlessly exposes the poverty, the pain but above all the stupidity of the masses. Alcohol, drugs and tablets – this triumvirate she detests above all else, because it makes people boring, infinitely boring. In the main part of this evening – which Liddell skilfully inserts into poetic images – she spares not only the audience but also herself in no way with her insults, which are like endless machine-gun salvos. Her physical constitution allows her to catapult her message against ugly mother-love over the edge of the stage in a grandiose choreography of movement. With the exception of a few minutes in which she sits on a chair and drinks mineral water from a plastic bottle to replenish her fluid balance, she is in constant motion, dancing, running, hitting objects, singing and shouting what her voice can give. “The house of rising sun”, in the version by Eric Burdon, provides her with an adequate musical layer, the lyrics of which point out that the mother should prevent her children from doing things that will harm them later. It is pointless to try to flee from this concentrated energy of intense stage performance and haunting blues interpretation. The length of this declaration of rage alone is enough for the audience not to be able to escape it permanently. Quite the opposite. The mental injuries the artist describes do not seem unfamiliar to many in the audience seats. It is not only the tense, continuous attention, but above all the repeated, almost imperceptible nodding of heads that makes it clear to many people that they know what terrible experiences Liddell is addressing here. And yet she makes it clear that mothers are not only perpetrators but also victims. That they only ever replicate what they themselves have experienced and so one Wendy gives birth to the next, this in turn to the next and so on. And all of them impose their “shitty experiences” – as Liddell puts it – on the next generation. Completely unreflective and therefore culpable. However, the play would not be very suitable for the theatre if the author, director and actress in one person had not added many more layers. Like the one in which she makes it clear that women who choose men who can mother them above all suffer from the so-called Wendy dilemma. “The people I love are all so small,” Liddell aptly describes this emotional relationship. But this also means that these women feel that the end of a relationship is catastrophic. As if the life entrusted to them had been snatched away, they bleed emotionally seemingly without end. An emotional state Liddell demonstrates in all her plays. A suffering that seemingly threatens to destroy her – and yet there is always a new Liddell and with this new Liddell a new performance.
The small earth island heaped up in the middle of the stage and overhung by menacing crocodiles symbolises not only Peter Pan’s “Neverland”, where the children never grow up, but at the same time – as becomes clear at the very end of the performance – the Norwegian island of death Utøya, where 69 people, the majority of them teenagers, were shot by Anders Behring Breivik. The artist imputes to him the Peter Pan syndrome, that longing not to want to grow up, and thus gives her own interpretation of this horrific mass murder. In addition to Liddell’s own stage presence, however, there are two people in particular on this evening who, at first glance, appear to be completely unrelated to the psychodrama. Sindo Puche and Zhang Qiwen, 71 and 72 years old and from Shanghai, take one lap after the other around this island of horror in an enchanting sequence of light-footed waltzing steps. The woman in a yellow, flowing evening gown, her partner in a tailcoat, they dance to the music of Cho Young Wuk, interpreted by the Phace ensemble. Placed at their sides of the stage, the rest of the acting troupe, three men, one woman and Liddell, pause to watch the dancing in silence. In this moment, charged with great poetry, all that had previously been brought up is forgotten. Grief and pain, anger and powerlessness – they no longer play a role. Only the waltz music and the couple completely immersed in it from a distant culture in which the waltz has no tradition whatsoever enchant the audience. It becomes clear what keeps Angélica Liddell – and not only her – alive. It is moments like these that represent escapes from that everyday life that seems unbearable. Whether it is a dance, whether it is immersion in a book, whether it is empathy with someone’s suffering or thoughts of a dear, lost person. In all these states of being, we find ourselves in a flow that completely lifts us out of the everyday and brings us closer to ourselves than ever before. This theatrical interlude is not, as one might initially think, unrelated to what was shown before and after. Even Liddell’s demonstrations of masturbation and the narration of her preference for “perverted” sexual practices are directly related to her indictment of the emotional exploitation of children by their mothers, including her outbursts of rage, hatred and the deeply felt pain of abandonment. For it is precisely these states of flow that counteract the grief and violence, the pain and suffering with what amounts to an emotional liberation. A – figuratively speaking – brief erasure of the thought hard drive in which life becomes bearable. It is not surprising that the nihilist Liddell, who abhors any promise of salvation, finds peace in these exceptional emotional states and that the search for it can take on an addictive character. Those who were still receptive after this dense kaleidoscope of life learned at the end that youth is the only human state for Liddell in which life reaches its peak and is worthy of admiration. And so it was logically the handsome young Lennart Boyd Schürmann who held up a mirror to the “great savage” with impunity. He alone was allowed to hurl in her face the realisation that her actions were completely irrelevant, even offensive to many people, but it was also he alone who was able to appease Liddell with his beguiling gaze, so that peace returned in the end. A supposed peace, mind you, that will probably only last until Wendy, or Liddell?, is abandoned again. Theatre to empathise with and to reflect upon, with a gain in insight and the potential to spark social discussions about the false common sense of mother sanctification