Review: Martyr, Unicorn

“I have a normal boy with behavioural problems”

There’s no doubting that the fight against fanaticism is a vital one but what Marius von Mayenburg’s play Martyr picks up on is that there is very little consensus on how to deal with it effectively. And in using fundamentalist Christianity as his hook, he subverts much of how we see radicalism. So it’s an ideal choice for Ramin Gray and the Actors Touring Company to follow up their hit production of The Events with this run at the Unicorn prior to a short UK tour.

Born-again Christian Benjamin is becoming increasingly disruptive at school – unwilling to join in swimming lessons as they’re mixed-sex and decrying classmates’ homosexuality and promiscuity – leaving the adults in his life unsure what to do. His mother and teachers struggle to understand but one teacher, Miss White from his Biology class, opts to tackle him head on, unprepared for the consequences of such an approach. Continue reading “Review: Martyr, Unicorn”

Review: The Dog, The Night And The Knife, Arcola

“Is that the…correct procedure”

If you like your plays with a beginning, a middle, an end and an easily definable narrative arc, then the work of German playwright Marius con Mayenburg is probably not for you. If however, you don’t mind a play that is utterly unafraid of inhabiting an obscure world and has no interest in providing any kind of traditional dramatic resolution, then the UK premiere of his 2008 play translated here by Maja Zade as The Dog, The Night And The Knife could well be up your straße.

Directed by Oliver Dawe, it is a brilliantly disconcerting piece of theatre that seems destined to be labelled “darkly comic” and/or “knotty” as the go-to phrases for this kind of work And it is work. Between them, Dawe and von Mayenburg cultivate an atmosphere of remarkable strangeness as a man, named simply M, wakes up in a world where much has changed. Normal rules of behaviour no longer apply and so he, and us the audience, needs to adapt to work out just what the hell is going on. Continue reading “Review: The Dog, The Night And The Knife, Arcola”

Review: Eldorado, Arcola

“I don’t know anything about lobsters”

Sadly not a sequel to the escapades of Pilar and Marcus, this Eldorado is the UK premiere of Marius von Mayenburg’s 2004 play, translated by Maja Zade. It is also the first production by new theatre company Mongrel Thumb and it makes for an ambitiously bold opening statement, albeit one that is likely to have as many detractors as it does fans. von Mayenburg’s work is inscrutably European in feel (Fireface at the Young Vic is my other experience of him) and Simon Dormandy’s production can only do so much to open it up.

Which means audiences at the Arcola will have to be, well, a little less British, a bit more adventurous in accepting von Mayenburg’s version of the world. His El Dorado is a modern day urban sprawl in which property is king, so much so that even though war is raging close by, investors are excited at the potential for building on the battlefields left behind. The rush for colonisation can’t hide the cultural malaise of a society on the edge of despair though, unhappiness manifesting itself in the strangest and most pervasive of ways – lobsters, cupboards, forests, piano lids. Continue reading “Review: Eldorado, Arcola”

Review: Fireface, Young Vic

“There’s a naked man in here who says our children should be committed”

Tucked away in the intimate Clare studio at the back of the Young Vic is Fireface, a 1997 work by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Sam Pritchard, the winner of the 2012 JMK Award for visionary new theatre directors. And with the aid of an intriguingly strong cast and Amanda Stoodley’s wide chipboard frame of a set, forming a timber cage for a dysfunctional family to play out their not-inconsiderable dramas, Pritchard has certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Quite how one judges his measure of success though is a matter of debate. He clearly has a keen eye for the highly theatrical: switching from having the actors sitting facing the audience and speaking their lines out to us rather than to each other to a more naturalistic style with a dizzying frequency and overlapping the scenes to increase the disconcerting effect of estrangement. It initially feels apt as a way to evoke the disquiet at the heart of this family home where Kurt and Olga are seething with teenage injustice, railing against their distracted parents and exploring an increasingly too-close bond full of burning desire. Continue reading “Review: Fireface, Young Vic”