Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A Dramaturgical Turn: Samuel Beckett’s Company at the Bayerische Staatsschauspiel - Wiebke Gronemeyer

Munich, November 2007
Reviewed by Wiebke Gronemeyer

In 1981 Samuel Beckett composed an enigmatic prose text, Company, in which a man lying on his back alone in the dark is spoken to by an unrelenting voice he can neither verify nor name. At times speaking in the third person, the voice describes the figure's tormented constraint in the present; at other moments, using the second person, he narrates scenes from the man's childhood and adolescence – a past very much like Beckett’s own.

A theatrical adaptation of this in parts autobiographic yet universalised discussion about the absurdity of existence seems difficult. Yet this autumn Stefan Hunstein accepts this challenge at the Bavarian State Theatre in Munich. He is acting both as the main character and as director of the production, understanding himself as an artist installing a piece, rather then a director staging a play. The spoken text is accompanied by a multimedia installation including four TV screens around a black podium on which the character’s body (Hunstein’s double) is situated, several screenings on the walls surrounding the stage, as well as a sound installation.

Similar to Joyce, Beckett processes a stream of consciousness and exposes the loneliness of a character situated between sleeping and awakening, questioning wherefrom and whereto on the edge of an infinite nothingness. The third person voice is refined and subtle, almost fanatical in his delineations of the man's constricted physical situation and ongoing mental processes – what he calls "unformulable gropings of the mind. Unstillable."

"Confusion too is company," he says, "up to a point." Unlike the astringent perceptions of the third person voice, the narrated instants from the past offered in the second person are with powers of observation. As this perplexing yet intensely gripping narrative proceeds, Hunstein crawls out underneath the podium and carries on the monologue that now admits to a dialogue between mind and body. He takes over the role of the reader who could have devised the voice for company: "the fable of one fabling of one with you in the dark." As the story evolves into a drama that is clearly taking place inside the man's head, the struggle about the reader’s need and obligation to imagine is at once taken away by staged action yet replaced by the challenge to pay attention to the different layers of the exposed loneliness: the seemingly dead body on the podium, the living body wondering around the stage, their identical faces screened on the back wall and his voice coming from different angles in the room. The mind (Hunstein) talks to his body (Hunstein’s double), reassuring that the one he is speak-ing to is the one that is spoken to and yet the same person.

Hunstein performs a dramaturgical turn from the text delivering an insight into a person’s world by means of selfreflection to an installation, which stages these intimate, lonely issues to a viewer that thus assumes an outside perspective. As questionable as this turn generally is, witnessing the staged self-disruption and at the same time self-reassurement is confusing yet exciting and holds through. It drives the viewer into listening to the spoken word and results in an enthusiastic fascination for Beckett’s decomposition of thoughts. Hence, Hunstein facilitates realisation through his multilayered installation and poses the question what else then the individual thinking makes an individual person, hence the lonely act of thinking is one without company.

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