A Flight into the Dark

Rimini Protokoll shows Helgard Haug’s magnificent piece, “All right. Good night.” at Hebbel am Ufer. It’s about dementia – and a plane crash.


17.12.2021 / https://www.tagesspiegel.de/

The human brain, unfortunately, does not have a CSMU. An acronym for crash survival memory unit, it refers to the memory storage in an airplane’s flight recorder, or black box, used to relay information about the cause and course of a crash after an accident.

It’s a kind of indestructible memory, resistant to substantial shock loads, fire, water. Of course, our memory can do amazing things – retrieve moments from the past deemed long-lost, store remote experiences for decades. But it’s glitchy in comparison.

With dementia, for example, there is no protection against the progressive erasure of content. On the other hand, the smartest CSMU is of no use if the black box is never found. What’s a memory worth that’s incommunicado?

At HAU 1, Helgard Haug, director and co-founder of the group Rimini Protokoll, tells the story of one of the largest enigmas in the history of modern air travel. And of her own father, who is increasingly losing himself. Both are a journey into night, that is, into blackout. And disappearance, loss, and the question of how to bear uncertainty.

Granted, at first glance it seems forced to intertwine the fate of man and machine. Here Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 at 1:21 AM local time suddenly dropped off the radar, never to emerge again. And there the former pastor from southern Germany, his first slip-up, small brain farts and memory lapses, who ultimately realizes, “I’m falling into pieces.” “I’m coming undone.” But over the course of the two and a half hour evening, the at times simultaneous, at times interspliced storytelling gains a fascinating plausibility and dynamism.

“All right. Good night.” is the title of the piece. Allegedly, that was the last message the pilot of Flight MH370 radioed in upon entering Vietnamese air space. Different to the usual Rimini Protokoll, this time there are no everyday experts on stage. After all, this is about people who are no longer tangible.

There are, however, five excellent musicians from the Berlin Zafraan Ensemble on stage: Matthias Badczong (clarinet), Evi Filippou (percussion), Josa Gerhard (violin), Martin Posegga (saxophone) and Beltane Ruiz (double bass), for whom electronic musician and composer, Barbara Morgenstern has written a vibrant score. A requiem without pathos that revisits narrative themes and develops them further with great variation. A soundtrack to the impermanence that fills the big empty space on stage but does not make forgotten.

Meanwhile the story unfolds in passages voiced offstage. Or primarily via text fade-ins on the scrim, a cogent picture of fleetingness. To this day nobody knows what happened on board Flight MH370. The wildest conspiracy narratives enmesh this enigma in a world of actual complete control with its own rules and abbreviations. Such as POB, persons on board (there were 239). Or LEP, last estimated position.

One theory is that the pilot, highly experienced with 18,000 flying hours, caused a loss of pressure in the cabin in order to coast the plane, full of sleeping passengers, across the expanse of the Indian Ocean until there wasn’t a drop left in the tank. For whatever reason. According to other speculations, the incident is one of the oldest magic tricks in the world – a diversion from shady weapons deals or some such. We’ll never know.

The father, however, makes every effort to leave behind as few questions as possible. Six years before his first signs of dementia – he sent his grandson four almost identical birthday cards at the same time, for instance – he jot down for his kids what should happen if he’s still here but isn’t all there and titled it, “How I Wish to Live My Death.”

In this excellent work, Helgard Haug has tuned into slow evanescence over a period of eight years. It gives the bereaved of the ill-fated flight – who have to live one day at a time without answers, to live without a body, without a burial – a chance to speak. And it tells of an existentially fraught disease with no chance of healing. What is the self? What does dignity mean? In his last email to the director, her father wrote, “Please stay in touch with me. Try to understand. And where possible, to forgive.”


All right. Good night.