In summer 1968, Viet Nam Discourse by Peter Weiss, directed by Peter Stein, premiered at the Münchner Kammerspiele. Whilst the cast were taking their bows, actor Wolfgang Neuss asked the audience to donate to the cause of the Vietcong. Neuss’s text was still part of the play as written by Peter Weiss. The actors then collected money at the exits, meant for the purchase of weapons. This action caused a major scandal and led to the cancellation of the production after only four performances by the then artistic director August Everding.
Fifty years later, the theatre invited artists to create plays for 15-minute slots for the production 1968 – Eine Besetzung der Kammerspiele (1968 – An Occupation of the Kammerspiele), relating to important issues of 1968 as seen from a contemporary and personal perspective. Architects RAUMLABOR BERLIN, who were in charge of Shabbyshabby Apartments two years ago, turned the theatre Kammer 1 into an open space which was to be “occupied” by the various ensembles and directors for their respective productions as “an act of political theatre, a risk, an experiment by and with all those who want to shape the world with the power of their art”. As a response to Jörg Meuthen, chairman of alt right party Alternative for Germany, who demanded to abandon “the contaminated left red-green, filthy Germany of the 68ers”, the Kammerspiele theatre quotes Jean-Paul Sartre: “LET IMAGINATION TAKE POWER, NOW”.
Members of the audience are welcome to sit on stage as well as in the auditorium whilst a shape forms of white air cushions is being blown up. The company Collectif Catastrophe from France welcome the audience with the manifesto: “Because everything is over, everything is permitted.” They also mentioned the historic Stein production pointing out that “back then Stein collected money for Vietcong, today there should be a collection to fight the alt right”.
The first play by Leonie Böhm is meant to evoke the anarchic Wolfgang Neuss but feels more like a parody. Thomas Hauser and Lukas Vögler, smiling incessantly and playing it super soft, approach a female member of the audience: “The time of being cool has passed. Your spirit has changed.” After asking personal questions about her teeth and her dreams, the Wolfgang Neuss reincarnation, now a “monk” (Lukas Vögler) assures her that: “We won’t have our sensibility taken away,” before both actors concluded the scene with a jolly song.
Gintersdorfer and Klassen focuss their two plays on Martinique writer Frantz Fanon, whose book The Wretched of the Earth was in the centre of the 1968 movement’s idea of the “revolutionary subject”. Combining psychiatry, psychoanalysis and political thinking, Fanon classified mental illnesses in Algerians and French people, following the Algerian war of liberation. Edmond Yao, alias Gadoukou la Star talked about the situation in Ivory Coast, which is still a dictatorship in 2018, ruled by a puppet dictator – a man who is popular in western countries, not because he is a reformer but because he collaborates against his own people in their interest. The German-Ivorian company criticised Africa for trying to become as humanitarian as Europe because Europe did not have any humanity. Today, former colonial powers are still collaborating with dictators, thereby displaying their complete moral bankruptcy. The audience are asked to repeat: “I will always be a genocidal monster”, but only about half of the audience do.
One definite highlight is the contribution by acclaimed director Anna-Sophie Mahler. Inspired by an Alexander Kluge film that entailed the occupation of Frankfurt university, Mahler decided to research her own family history. Her father Eugen Mahler was working with Professor Mitscherlich in Frankfurt at the time and he was responsible for the psychological care of the students. Interviews with Mahler’s now 91-year old father are intertwined with protocols from group therapy sessions and quotes by student leader Rudi Dutschke. Whilst the conflicts between students and their fathers, often authoritarian patriarchs, becomes evident, the air cushions rise to take the shape of a monstrous father figure. Jelena Kuljić and Yuka Yanagihara, with Michael Wilhelmi on the piano, accompany Rudi to heaven with a Beatles song.
A poetic, though hard-hitting and highly relevant play is presented by the German-Polish director Wojtek Klemm. His contribution connects the self-immolation by Czechoslovakian student Jan Palach, after the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, to Piotr Szczęsny’s suicide in October 2017 to protest against the pre-fascist Polish government and to rouse people into action. Accompanied by the Munich Boys Choir, Piotr Szczęsny (Stefan Märki) proceeded with his self-annihilation whilst Gro Swantje Kohlhof representing Poland demandedS a Polish loyalty test: “Who are you?”, “What do you believe in?”, “What do you owe to Poland?”
Alberto Villarreal‘s play with Stefan Märki, Jelena Kuljić, Thomas Hauser, and Gro Swantje Kohlhof focuses on the student protests in Mexico in 1968. Ten days before the Olympic Games in Mexico began, the Mexican government crashed the peaceful protests, killing 200 to 300 students at the Plaza de Tres Culturas. Villarreal sees these events as zero hour of Mexican democracy. A tank, formed of air cushions and a tube, waltz across the stage, quashing the protesters before the actors recount all the revolutions that have taken place since 1968. In text cascades, Villarreal criticises today’s commercialism and narcissism, which excites the masses: “Egotism is existentialism”.
The audience seem to be ready for a break by now so Elfriede Jelinek’s “Silent Reading”, originally performed in 1968 by the author, is now recreated on video and projected on a big screen while performers hand out free beer to thirsty members of the audience. Based on John Cage, the young Elfriede Jelinek opens a book but never reads from it. Sadly, this part of the evening is pretty much ignored by many which does not really do justice to Jelinek’s contribution.
Next, the company Henrike Iglesias (Anna Fries, Laura Naumann, Marielle Schavan, Sophia Schroth) look at sexual revolution from the female viewpoint. As the ensemble is lowered from the ceiling, wearing gaudy costumes with springs dangling from their bodies like penises, rock music is played. After giving thanks to the feminist movement of 1968 and looking at the rights of women today, the performers set up a lottery drum including promises that volunteers in the audience are supposed to make and then keep. There are plenty of volunteers who promise not to stand aside when somebody is harassed or not to blame bad driving on a person’s gender.
The evening concludes wits Collectif Catastrophe (Pierre Jouan, Pablo Brunaud, Carol Teillard, Arthur Navellou, Blandine Rinkel, Hadrian Bouvier), a free collective of musicians, writers, visual artists, and theatre artists formed to oppose the prevalent cynical apocalyptic doom philosophy. The collective wants people to embrace their fears and be bold. Catastrophe have a desk near the box office where people are asked to write down their worst fears and these notes are to be used later in the performance. Some of the fears are mentioned but not much talked about. Cheery pop music and dancers emerge from smoke, spread the message that heroes will be clowns and the future will be bright.
The production includes some very good work but also contributions that seem rather trivial and lightweight. 3/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin
1968 will next be shown on 12, 13 and 14 March 2018. For more information on the production, visit here…