You’re here, or maybe you’re gone

In 2014, Flight MH370 disappeared over the ocean. At the same time, the father of director Helgard Haug (Rimini Protokoll) was showing the first signs of dementia.

By Janis El-Bira

17.12.2021 /

Man’s mind must be as deep as an abyss and his soul as wide as the sea to understand everything between heaven and earth – the classical Christmas song already knows that. It didn’t get Christmassy at all tonight at HAU, however, but there was talk of the mind and its abyss, vastness, and the ocean. Helgard Haug of Rimini Protokoll announced a “piece about disappearance and lost,” and like Paul Gerhardt in the hymn, she measures humans’ small lives by the great big, quite often bizarre things out there. And she found one such thing in Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

Its fate represents the greatest mystery in recent aviation history. A passenger aircraft with 239 people on board on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared from the radar without a trace on the night of March 8, 2014 – and according to the most accepted theory – ultimately plummeted into the Indian Ocean hours later far off the planned route with an empty fuel tank. “All right. Good night.” were the pilots last radioed words, it was claimed at the beginning of the investigations. However, the wreckage was never found, and to this day the legends continue multiplying.

A Disappearance of Another Kind

As if ready to board, the Zafraan Ensemble musicians stand by on stage at the beginning. It’s one of the very few motifs tonight that uses flying illustratively. Because it’s not actually about the mystery of that fated flight. Rather the disappearance of MH370 has personal resonance with the author’s life; it corresponds to another slow glide down here on factual ground. For shortly after MH370’s takeoff and never-to-be-seen-again, signs of early stage dementia manifested in Haug’s father. A disappearance of another kind ensues. The process of disintegration that began with forgetting pesto jars in the refrigerator and ended in a candle burning in front of the door at his shared housing for people with dementia, which he’d already established at his own house before his condition set in. Between them there’s a longstanding search – for the remains of the father-self and the wreckage of MH370.

From the parallels of someone who’s still here but seems gone and the many who are gone but omnipresent, Haug has created a script to be counted among the most beautiful, touching and by all means saddest this year. One hopes it survives in many forms, as a book or radio play, to hold onto its images, which so eloquently and simultaneously elaborate the catastrophe in the sky and in the head. The teleprinter’s batteries that died too early, the father’s last scribbles, “as skewed as felled trees,” the “points of contact,” and “handshakes” with which the family tries to carve the dementia patient a path through daily life. “You’re here, or maybe you’re gone,” they said once. Meanwhile, a projection of the sea upstage, its roaring surf sounding. At some point a piece of debris falls from the fly tower.

Last Revolt

In between the audience is occupied with reading and listening. As director, Helgard Haug has translated her piece into an unusual kind of concert theater, which links the text, projected word for word on a scrim, to a soundtrack by composer Barbara Morgenstern. In the wide open, deep dark stage space the five Zafraan musicians weave ambient sounds á la Brian Eno in the glow of their tablets or flutter off mellow, otherworldly pentatonic scales. For extra volume, which is rare, a fluffy marimba fills in for drums. Everyone assembles once for a beach scene. Smaller parts of the text very occasionally emanate from the reel; more frequently it’s crackling radio messages and screaming children.

Two and a half nearly wordless hours take shape in a long, demanding, only sometimes prolate undertow of reading and listening, which like a sonar sends its acoustic pulses to the script. From there the answers come off increasingly brusque with time. The father, a Protestant pastor and once active leftist demonstrator, rebels against infirmity again. Even his final walks don’t give him any joy. Only in the home for dementia patients, with his twilight years project, does he feel appreciated again. As if given to him, a group of Flight MH370 loved ones appears in the script who inquire every day at the Malaysia Airlines office if there’s any news. Perhaps that’s the subtle nod to politics which seems present somewhere in this piece. To follow every trace which could lead to a change in the actual situation. Be it only a contrail.


All right. Good night.