Director Christopher Rüping had always felt detached from ancient Greek drama. The chorus, the language, and the role of fate created an artificial world that had nothing to do with our reality. When watching Greek drama, he found that he began to be engaged by the play only when it was almost over. When those dramas were written, they were presented at the Dionysia, a drama competition (Agon) that went on for five days. Dionysia were ecstatic festivals with free wine and free food, starting early in the morning and going on until late at night. Christopher Rüping knew he could not recreate the Dionysia but he decided to be bold and to present a tetralogy, composed of three dramas and one satyr play. Ten hours of theatre would allow his antique drama to unfold.
Rüping’s production does not include any of the classical tragedies, he uses different texts focusing on three themes, starting out with Prometheus, based on texts by Heiner Müller, Plato, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After the interval, the Fall of Troy is discussed, followed by The Oresteia. The evening ends with a pastoral.
Actor Nils Kahnwald introduces the production by talking about organizational matters. Although the audience is not supposed to leave during the performance, desperate smokers are allowed to get on stage and sit down on a bench for a smoke whenever the traffic light is green. The catch is, they have to wear part of a costume. When I attend, nobody is desperate enough to join in the action. It is a rather quiet house due to the Bavarian regional election taking place.
Kahnwald then talks about the self-destructive behaviour of mankind and states that we will destroy ourselves within the next three hundred years. Catapulted back into the stone age, aliens might actually become interested in us as we would then start from scratch and hopefully choose a better way of life. Maybe Prometheus should not have given humans the power of fire after all.
FIRST PART: PROMETHEUS – THE INVENTION OF MAN focuses on the ingenious god Prometheus (Benjamin Radjaipour) who is condemned to suffering hellish pain and never-ending agony as punishment for giving fire to mankind, thereby enabling humans to evolve from helpless animals. Zeus (Majd Feddah) can foresee the disaster that Prometheus’ noble deed will cause – “fire leads to war” – and considers him a stupid traitor. Prometheus challenges Zeus to enforce his injustice and is subsequently chained to a rock in the Caucasus. Rüping and designer Jonathan Mertz have Benjamin Radjaipour put in a cage that is suspended above the stage, sprayed with water and bird droppings (white paint) with only bleating sheep as his company until the cow Io (Maja Beckmann) drives the sheep away. Io will eventually give birth to demigod Hercules (Wiebke Mollenhauer) who will free Prometheus six thousand years later. Zeus knew that the rise of the new species would mean the end of the gods. Prometheus remains victorious. And his protégées go on to wage war on each other.
SECOND PART: TROY. THE FIRST WAR was described as “very long and very loud” by Nils Kahnwald, which turned out to be true but also effective. Based on the Iliad by Homer and The Trojan Women by Euripides, this play focuses on battles and heroic duels. Seated within the gleaming white walls of Troy, percussionist Matze Prölloch illustrates the action as the crews of thousands of ships that have sailed to Troy are let loose on the prosperous metropolis. The emphasis is on narration and projections – busts of leaders and weapons are displayed in a never-ending flow as well as aggressive patterns alternating with swirls of colour. The war continues until Troy is destroyed and the white walls are crushed. The Greeks return home as crippled old men after 4000 days of war, taking their spoils with them, among them the Trojan women who survived. The women mock those men who are too ashamed and cowardly to inform them of their fate. But it is not their fault, after all they are simply following orders. Whose fault is it? The Trojan women blame the gods, but didn’t Prometheus provide mankind with self-determination?
THE THIRD PART: ORESTIA. DECLINE OF A FAMILY is presented like a TV soap opera . Agamemnon (Peter Brombacher) returns with his slave Cassandra (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) to his home in Greece where his hateful wife Clytemnestra (Maja Beckmann) has taken Aegisthus (Majd Feddah) as her lover. While Udo Jürgens’ evergreen hit song “Griechischer Wein” (Greek Wine) is played, the happy twosome murder Agamemnon. Electra (Wiebke Mollenhauer) expects her brother Orestes (Nils Kahnwald) to kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus once he returns. Orestes organises a party and invites 18 members of the audience to join in the fun. As the guests are dancing and clapping, Orestes murders Clytemnestra a and Aegisthus. Traumatised and covered in blood, he is comforted by Electra. Orestes’ only hope seems to be the hated Menelaus (Peter Brombacher) who might be able to prevent his execution. The play is overwrought and quite farcical at times but the end of revenge and a new era of justice beckons regardless. Electra marries Pylades and all is well.
FOURTH PART: WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH DIONYSOS? Nils Kahnwald called this satyr play the most beautiful thing that he’d ever seen in theatre. He must be a great footie fan but the pastoral atmosphere of a friendly football game provides a mellow ending for an exciting theatre marathon. Actors wearing horns and tails, walking on platform shoes, are playing football. Occasionally the ball is kicked into the audience. After about fifteen minutes, the actors cease playing and Nils Kahnwald reads Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s essay about the beauty and melancholy of Zidane’s header during the world cup final in 2006.
Christopher Rüping’s thoughtful and inspiring production poses relevant questions about the future of humanity whilst providing an idea of what the Dionysia might have felt like. Not to be missed. 5/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin.
DIONYSOS STADT will return on 8th and 10th February 2019. Presale until April 2019.
For more info click here…
The production is in German with English surtitles.
REFRESHMENTS AVAILABLE IN THE THREE INTERVALS (NOT INCLUDED IN THE PRICE)
Please reserve a meal if desired at Kulisse or Conviva. Price range: 15 to 20 Euro (drinks not included, limited offer)