Thursday, April 19, 2007

Stop me before I kill again...

(no, it's not what you think)...is what George W Bush says on the back of my anti-capitalista t-shirt which I picked up in Friedrichshain market last Sunday. Told you it had interesting things. At another stall a young woman sold t-shirts with poems. One of these went 'I am the stag and you are the doe' - it's a poem by Hermann Hesse. A guy who had sidled up beside me muttered, in awe, 'that's an enormous statement!' (No, I did not buy this one!). Both t-shirts are relevant in the context of 'Bambiland', a ...well, what....kind of play by Elfriede Jelinek.

Elfriede Jelinek, you will remember, is the Austrian author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004, much to some people's surprise. Amongst other things she has written 'The Piano Teacher', a book about a sex-obsessed and mother-dominated piano teacher who abuses her student. Many of her books are like that; I've read about two or three....They are not easy reads (in case someone is looking for a bit of pornography...); the language is very complicated. In view of this I was a bit concerned to see a four-year-old going into the theatre. Jelinek did not go to pick up the prize, on the grounds of agarophobia or some such condition. That does not seem to stop her having a site on myspace.....unless one of her fans set it up.

Today was the premiere of the play in the National Drama Theatre in Vilnius, by the Oskar Korsunovas Theatre, but with the production by one Yana Ross from the US. The full text of the play is on her website (click on 'Bambiland' above, then on 'Aktuelles', go to 2004 and 'Bambiland' in German, or 2005 and Bambiland in English [incomplete]), and is a non-stop monologue based on the model of Aishylos' 'The Persians' (in the current climate the British Navy might wish to produce a new interpretation of this play...).

Actually it's about the Iraq war (hence my desire to have worn the t-shirt). It was not put on as a ceaseless monologue, thankfully, but by about 8 actors, five men and three women. One of the men wore the most enormous platform boots, and a huge rubber cone on top of his head; he played God, generally (remember, it's based on a Greek play). The other men and women, bar one, were soldiers in the first half and gods in bambi trousers with little bambi tails in the second half. The final woman came on stage as the Queen of England to the National Anthem (I had to restrain myself from standing up!), but later was a normal person. As normal as can be in this play. There were scenes with people in hoods (Abu Ghraib), a mother picking up toys in the street (which reminded her of her dead children), a puppet show involving inflatable bambis and a skull, another scene involving lots of bloodstained clothes of all sizes and redundant toys; at one moment a pig's head (real, but dead) was dismembered with an axe very close to the front row, bits flying everywhere. It would seem there was a vegetarian rather too close to the action....

Actually, the text is very funny, astonishingly crafted (as you should expect from a Nobel Prize Winner...) and totally scathing about the Bush and Blair coalition with all the others - since I am not allowed to quote anything, I cannot, but it's well worth taking a look at it - if you have time, go and read it. Considering there were no stage directions since essentially it's a polemic rather than a play, the producer had managed quite well keeping up the interest. Of course there is no real dialogue, it's more that the words are tossed about between the actors. This perhaps made it difficult to keep up the interest at times, and there were moments when I found my eyes drifting to 'closed' but I got over that after a while. The applause was rather weak, though, so maybe it was not just me. It's clear that this text has a lot to say, and having it as a play maybe connects it to more people; but it's not easy for producers. I suspect the text is better than the production was, but the producer did try her best.