People go to the action theatre ensemble for various reasons. Because you want to know what kind of theatre this troupe does, because you are taken by friends and have no idea what to expect, because you appreciate the kind of theatre you get to see or because you have the feeling of meeting old acquaintances again. But if you’ve been following Martin Gruber and his work for a while, there’s another reason to watch every new production. It is the fascination of gaining creative access to our current events and of looking at events, emotions and social structures from a different angle than the one we are confronted with every day.
It is precisely this approach that makes every visit a new experience. In the meantime, Gruber generates the respective cast from a large ensemble pool, which also has newcomers every now and then. Zeynep Alan, Babett Arens, Michaela Bilgeri, Luzian Hirzel, David Kopp and Tamara Stern are in action for “Lüg mich an und spiel mit mir”. The stage action is complemented by live music by Dominik Essletzbichler, Daniel Neuhauser, Gidon Oechsner, Daniel Schober. This time they have a strong part of their own and are not only responsible for an underlining soundtrack.
Without exception, they all enter the stage with black-rimmed eyes. An obvious message that what is to come will not be fun trallala. How could it be – in times like these! The pandemic has not yet disappeared, the environmental problem will never go away and the war in Eastern Europe has repercussions far beyond Ukraine. The zeitgeist that surrounds us is filled with fears, but also aggression, which we try to suppress as best we can.
It is precisely on this wound that Gruber puts his finger. The longer the performance lasts, the more this wound is opened, from which a lot of blood eventually flows. That which many of us carry out within ourselves is allowed to act out its ensemble before us and for us. There is insulting and shouting, people puff on each other and irritate each other until rage bursts out of everyone and the law of the fist enters the stage.
Right from the start, Tamara Stern gives free rein to her negative emotions, and at times so violently that she resembles a wild animal. What initially manifests itself only in violent verbal injuria tips over into physical aggression, which leads to violent attacks and fights that gradually spread to everyone else.
The stage is bordered by a concave screen showing photos that slowly change. A map of Ukraine can be seen through small peepholes, later the theatre of Mariupol can be seen – shot up, bombed, with a partially collapsed roof. None of this is commented on, but is subliminally permanently in the room, underpinning the sentences with another layer. One not only begins to understand that the horror and the threat could just as well affect us, sitting in the protected theatre space. One also begins to understand, to realise what one always feels anyway. We can talk ourselves into a better reality, we can look positively into the future and try to push away what doesn’t suit us or simply overwhelms us. Nevertheless, “it” is there. It happens while we are trying to enjoy ourselves.
It doesn’t help to look enviously at the Swiss population. According to Babett Arens and Luzian Hirzel, there is a place in a shelter for every citizen there. Under the theatre in Mariupol, people also thought they were safe. But what use is any hiding place, no matter how fortified, if we ruin our environment with every wash? Even organic detergents end up in the drain and destroy our waters. How can we distinguish good from evil when beggars we have known for many years suddenly ask for help not as Roma but as Ukrainians? What about the Ukrainian refugee from the east of the country who found refuge here with us 8 years ago, fleeing Ukrainian repression? What message did we not hear, did we not want to hear? Is it permissible to attack Russians who attack us, but not Ukrainians? And what absurdity, or perhaps even monstrosity, is revealed in the fact that a president who has proven himself to be an outstanding dancing star is now bitterly fighting for villages and towns that are being reduced to rubble? What are facts, what are lies? How much do we participate in it and why? At one point a momentous sentence is uttered, albeit casually: “We say we live in a functioning democracy and lie back until it’s true!” But there is also the realisation that lying holds us together.
The hard beats contributed by the black-clad musicians, the droning of the sounds support anti-aggression exercises and at the same time push the idea of having to gear up for an upcoming fight. In parallel, the images on the big screen change to show shots of human skin surface. That which we want to push far away hits us relentlessly and threatens us physically very close. But images of people also flash through your mind. People who are fighting for naked survival. Perhaps one or the other of the audience associates this with other things.
This fact alone shows that the theatrical universe of the aktionstheater ensemble reflects exactly that which corresponds to our current world of experience and feeling. We are surrounded by uncertainty and have to deal with questions for which we have no clear answers. At the same time, however, we are all allowed to feel privileged, each and every one of us who attends a performance. For the duration of about one and a half hours, we are allowed to experience again something that we have been missing. We get to experience something again that we didn’t know before how much we would actually miss one day: We experience a community that makes us laugh and marvel at the same time. We experience a community that makes us laugh and marvel at the same time, that makes us feel anger and plunges us into helplessness, from which we then rise again thanks to a clever dramaturgy. We are allowed to experience that people want and need people. The idea that theatre can’t achieve anything turns out to be an illusion. Fortunately for everyone involved – whether on or in front of the stage.
This article was automatically translated with deepl.com