Friday, April 25, 2008

Funding problems at the Burgtheater

The Burgtheater in Vienna is a venerable, if not entirely to be venerated these days, institution in Vienna. Everyone who is anyone needs to be seen at this theatre. Next to it is the Café Landtmann, a similarly venerated institution, which, like the Burgtheater, has recently suffered lapses in taste (one with its theatrical productions, the other with its architectural extension). Café Landtmann, incidentally, is also the place where Sigmund Freud used to hang out – a park named after him is not far from there. I digress.

Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’ is a new production. Like many non-English productions it uses the text very freely – in this case almost only as a skeleton. I’m not very familiar with this play, but the joins between the new bits and the original bits were so obvious that it was like being hit with a sledge hammer.

What makes me think the Burgtheater is short of cash? It’s the first theatre I have come across where you pay (albeit voluntarily) for a pee, and a woman looks after the two toilets, wiping them down after each customer. Are the Viennese so disgusting in their toilet habits that this needs to be done? (Ask Mr Freud). I hate having someone stand outside my door, waiting for me….

The inside of the auditorium is not only astonishingly plain, but it has seen better days. Someone should tell them that these days there are non-smelly paints that do not give people headaches – these should be applied freely, especially to the ceiling (it is also possible to rent scaffolding…).

The plainness was exarcerbated, in this case, by the stage set resembling a DDR asylum for the homeless dining room of ca 1975. Which shortly afterwards was peopled by the people belonging in this place. Again the shortness of cash showed seeing that most actors had several roles (though no doubt this was An Artistic Methodology).

The punters of the asylum talked pure Austrian apart from one guy who, I realised with a start, sounded like a Berliner. Homeless people migrate, too, I guess. So I did not understand what they talked about, mostly. But there was much talk about how the German ‘schlager’ (an particularly atrocious form of

popular music) was true, much mention of the unemployed and so on. In the interval I overheard that the ‘native’ actors might have been from the Volkstheater (folk theatre). The audience laughed at this, quite a lot, so I guess they liked being taken to the underbelly of society (it’s kind of safely exotic, you know).

And then there were the Shakespearean bits, where the language suddenly completely changed – and boy, these parts were so boooooring! The audience was restless in these, when they were not asleep (a guy a couple of rows behind me had three severe snoring spells, all coinciding with fairly quiet Shakespeare). Another guy, in the theatre on his own, checked his text messages and picked his nose and ears extensively during moments like this. Memo to him – when you are bored, people around you may be bored, too – and watch the audience rather than the stage.

I left at the interval – I was not the only one. Should have gone to the Musikverein to hear Daniel Mueller-Schott in the Dvorak cello concerto instead....