Review: Quartett

Quartett by Heiner Müller, at the Theaterkapelle Friedrichshain
Director: Christina Emig-Könning
Design & Costume: Peter Schubert
Dramaturgy: Lennart Naujoks

Photo: Markus Götze

Why name a play requiring only two actors Quartett? In honour of the 16th anniversary of his death, the Theaterkapelle offered a solution to this Heiner Müller riddle, and at the same time to the awkward shape of its chosen performance space. The musty cellar beneath the former chapel (where Woyzecken was performed) is, well, a musty cellar – just that bit too long, or narrow, or both, to really be useable. Unless you’re a lateral thinker like Peter Schubert. His design used two cameras projecting live onto the walls in order to allow him to split the cellar in half, and give each of the protagonists, the decadent pre-Revolution aristocrats Marquise de Merteuil and her lover Vicomte Valmont, their own stage. The audience seated in Valmont’s half could watch the Marquise on the screen behind him, and vice versa. The duo became a quartet. A diagram helps in these situations:

Spending the majority of time acting ‘alone together’ like this, each in front of the 2-dimensional image of the other, the raving characters became both more terrifying and more pitiful. The video image was unfortunately never as sharp as the one in the striking press photo above, particularly when the actors weren’t up close to the camera – sitting with the Marquise, I didn’t know what Valmont’s face looked like until a little while through the play, when the two actors swapped stages.

But what might have been lost in video quality was more than made up for by the sweaty frenzy of the actors as they spewed out Müller’s unstoppable cascade of text, sexual perversion on the brink of death. Unlike Verkommenes Ufer at the Deutsches Theater, this production wasn’t afraid to get seriously dirty. Just how Müller would have wanted it? I hope so.

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