In Elementarteilchen, Johan Simons’ adaptation of the novel of the same title by Michel Houellebecq, the actors, five in all, mostly stand on a corrugated floor on an otherwise empty stage. Sometimes the actors walk around a bit, stumbling on the uneven floor. The piece consists of little more than this, but this “little more” touches precisely the right tone.
Time flies, or so it is said. But does it? And if it does, does it fly like a plane or like a bird or a bee perhaps? This week I went to see the fourth and final episode of the Proust cycle by Guy Cassiers and the RO Theater.
The Master and Margarita is a magnificent novel. It is hilariously funny and a brilliant satire, but this is not a review of The Master and Margarita, but of Frank Castorf's play of the same title. How do you adapt for theater a book set at different locations and during different time periods, in which witches fly on brooms and someone's body disappears from his suit, which continues performing its daily duties?
Alvis Hermanis must have realized that to render the sense of emptiness and loss that permeats the play, he didn’t have to faithfully reproduce the text. All he had to do was to put a seemingly random group of people together in a room. This in itself creates a form of tension. Who are these people and what brought them here? As long as the actors understand the atmosphere of the text they can basically do whatever. And this is indeed what they do.
Towards the end of the performance the stage floor suddenly tilts backwards by about 30 degrees. Everything that is standing on stage, chairs, cutlery, boxes, bottles, kitchen equipment falls. The ground is shifting. From this moment on the actors have to, literally, search for their balance in a world that is breaking apart. Sitting in the audience the question looming in the back of one’s mind is this: will the stage tilt further backwards?