The King Becomes The Actor

How Rimini Protokoll changes theatre with Schiller and how Thomas Langhoff sets it right again with Schiller at the Schiller Days in Mannheim

Von Peter Michalzik

07.06.2007 / Frankfurter Rundschau

Schiller Days in Mannheim

The 13th International Schiller Days are still going on until 12th June and present a rich varierty of guest performances. “Willhelm Tell” and “Wallenstein” are original productions. “Wallenstein” is on at the rehearsal-centre in Neckarau until June 10th, and Weimar ; ‘e-werk’ from June 16th – 18th. “Willhelm Tell” is on show June 12th, 19th, 22nd, and 30th at the National Theatre in Mannheim. On Sunday they got rid of theatre in Mannheim. Amongst others there are on stage Mannheim mayor candidate of the CDU; Sven-Joachim Otto and the head of the Weimar head of police. Both present themselves, but the their own self remains a theatre part. Otto sings a songs and then reports matter-of-fact how he became mayor candidate at the age of 29, how he was built up to be the animal-loving family man with the help of the party leader’s dog and siblings, how he tried to snatch up votes by appearing at garden-parties with crates of beer – an idea still envied by the SPD, and how he was not elected by his own party last year. So it’s a Heidi-Simonis-story. Ralf Kirsten speaks of what happened when he as a passionate policeman in the Federal German Republic had a relationship with a woman who applied for emigration. So it is a love-and-country-story. Both reports are true, word by word. Still, you don’t see a report or hear interviews, it is theatre, therefore play, therefore fiction. Otto and Kirsten are not Otto and Kirsten, but act Otto and Kirsten. Therefore they create themselves and de-construct themselves at the same moment. This is why this is more exciting than any report could ever be. . It is transparent, so to speak. Theatre seems to dissolve at this moment because of sheer transparency: If the king acts the king, who he is (and Otto and Kirsten hold this position in reality), what are actors playing kings for? On the other hand, this Mannheim production becomes the greatest thinkable apotheosis of theatre. Still, the actual king of the evening is the Vietman veteran, Dave Blalock. As reports how the plans in his platoon develop to get rid of their cruel commander, how he then is really killed by a hand-grenade, the audience can hardly believe what it is really believing: That Blalock did it. There are a couple of things happening: The position of the king is re-defined because now the subjects become master of life and death. Theatre is as close to reality as hardly ever before, so close that you almost wait for the military police to arrest Blalock. On top of that you’re deeply involved with Schiller’s Wallenstein, at least with political-military elements of the play. Schiller’s play is the model which is structured by this performance.

More true than reality

This is the first time for Rimini-Protokoll, here represented by Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel, to work with a classical text. Therefore, on stage you find loads of ‘Reclam’ booklets. But the actual achievement is not the Schiller-adaptation, but that Rimini-Protokoll was able to find ten acting person all together, got them onto stage and constructed this Schiller translation so that the people could appear more real than in reality. Rimini-Protokoll is known for this type of theatre ever since Wolfgang Thierse forbade them to use the Bonner assembly room to copy a live debate from the German parliament in Berlin with real people. Now they have come further than ever. They have reached a stage of precariousness which appears impossible in a dramatised media world, but is its convincing answer. This is the end of theatre what it looks like at the exciting Mannheimer Schiller Days. At the other end is Thomas Langhoff’s production, and his traditional theatre moves just as much between fiction and reality as Rimini-Protokoll, or any other theatre. Only that actors really play other people, as in the case of Schiller’s heroic drama “Willhelm Tell”. However, the man you see there is certainly no hero. Werner Sstauffacher cannot submit to the despotic protector Gessler – but he’s not the one to rebel. At home, the man dressed in a vest tells his wife Gertrude who wears a white blouse that Gessler disputes his right to his house and self-determination, and it sounds just like an employee is annoyed with his line-manager. And he even buries his head in her lap. It is Gertrude (Ute Fiedler) who makes Werner (Michael Schmitter) revolt. She does so not by recognising his rebellious nature (as Schiller), but by appealing to his naive, rather blue-eyed heroism. She talks about her suicide, but this is not a serious consideration (as Schiller sees it), but reason for a kiss. There is spark between them again. Revolution by accident, and that in a traditional way is the dream of risk for the ones with social security. The Stauffers talk things through as couples in Switzerland and in Germany nowadays usually do, but there is not a moment’s doubt – and this is the beauty of this production – that they speak Schiller. Thomas Langhoff tuned the Mannheim actors into a social toned-down sound which leaves Schiller and his Pathos to himself, but you can listen into him. A clear dramatic language is created in this way. Langhoff takes Schiller serious, very serious and leaves no space for irony, but he avoids everything that makes this play so attractive to tourism and patriotism.