This new production by Swiss director and playwright Christoph Marthaler, known for his poetic musical theatre shows, has been eagerly awaited by Munich audiences. Marthaler, sorely missed in the Bavarian capital since his successful 2002 production of Nobel Prize Winner Elfriede Jelinek’s play In den Alpen, was invited by Artistic Director Matthias Lilienthal, with whom Marthaler had collaborated on various occasions, to present his new production at the Kammerspiele.

Courtesy of Münchner Kammerspiele.

Courtesy of Münchner Kammerspiele.

The play is set at Lake Constance, actually at the bottom of the lake. The staff of the department for passports and residency documents at the regional office at Lake Constance (ZVdBR) have miraculously disappeared. They had been dealing with the growing number of non-European migrants, calmly awaiting “Day X”. Yet when it arrived their offices remained empty. Rumour has it that they were part of a secret mission but nobody knows for sure. This situation is called a “Tiefer Schweb” (Deep Dive) in the Lake Constance Region. The expression also refers to the deepest, most uncharted area of the great lake. Here is Tri-Border country – the borders of Austria, Switzerland and Germany are so close together that one can visit all three countries within seconds as the cheerful captain of a pleasure boat cruising around Lake Constance explains before he invites his passengers to enjoy a “Tri-Border Special” at the Bistro. Yet the enjoyment of cruising Lake Constance has been sadly diminished by floating residence units for migrants which seal off part of the lake, making it inaccessible to tourists.

Meanwhile a newly formed committee is meeting 253 meters below to discuss the situation. The bureaucrats are sitting around a table in a room resembling a 19th century office with wooden panelling and dominated by a tiled stove which serves as a letterbox as well as the only entrance and exit of the secret “retreat pressure chamber 55 b”. A multi-purpose valve wheel does not only regulate the pressure but can also be used to open doors to secret chambers and switch between various radio stations (set design by Duri Bischoff).

As the committee discusses the agenda and regulations for their meeting, Christoph Marthaler combines poetry with bureaucracy as Annette Paulmann slams their competencies from A-Z whilst Ueli Jäggi muses over the importance of the word “Boden” in “Bodensee” (Lake Constance), stating that this word has remained unchanged in a myriad of foreign tongues. Occasionally, there are slight problems with the water pressure leading to contortions and bloated faces – a quick turn of the valve wheel, counter clockwise, will, however, release the pressure and save the committee from certain death. The staff remain unfazed and immediately go back to business, which is occasionally interrupted by musical numbers in a cappella style.

After a number of gurgling noises, a diver emerges from the stove bringing news from the surface and chocolate bars for the hungry bureaucrats. As the staff are nibbling on their treats, the diver, like a messenger in a Greek drama, reports on disturbances in the biosphere by bacteria – on his way down he met a man with a polymorphic head and a monstrous serpent. This is a question of bioethics and bio politics. Could the 20 migrants residing on former pleasure boats be responsible? Tamino (Hassan Akkouch), a bacteriologist who fled from Illyria and attended Tri-Border University was recently “Bavarianised”. Still he is asked to perform an original Bavarian folk dance to prove his loyalty. Tamino obliges with a skilful shoe-clapping dance.

In the second half of the show, musical interludes become more frequent and more varied emphasising the revue character of the production – folk songs take turns with cantatas by Bach culminating in a rousing rendition of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Ueli Jäggi, which almost brought the house down. The”Urinal Quartet” is a great example of Marthaler’s absurdly impressive imagery as four men place urinals over their heads and start yodelling through the drain holes prompted by the feminist discussion between Annette Paulmann and Olivia Grigolli.

As Walter Hess and Ueli Jäggi are talking about the different meanings of the word “Ausschuss” (committee and scrap) and contemplating principles of Heidegger’s philosophy, Walter Hess comes to the conclusion that what he really wants is “not wanting”. To the telling of a fairy tale about an exotic princess, the other actors begin parading across the stage, wearing outlandish German folk costumes by designer Sara Kittelmann. Yet Jürg Kienberger does not appreciate this unpleasant harmony or any fraternisation with migrants, he erects barriers with wooden planks and barbed wire to keep all the foreigners out, which creates a slight problem when the pressure rises and the valve wheel, obstructed by those barriers, has to be turned again.

Christoph Marthaler has created a playful absurd satire and a musical poem on bureaucracy. The cast seemed to enjoy every minute of it and so did the audience. 4/5

Review written by Carolin Kopplin

Tiefer Schweb is currently showing at the Münchner Kammerspiele until Thursday 27th July 2017 and will then return after the summer holidays. For more information on the production, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop