Royal Court Theatre, London SW1
  Opened 6 March, 2009

Having begun its German season with a play by the “in yer face”-influenced playwright Marius von Mayenburg, one of two of his works currently in the repertoire of the Schaubühne in Berlin, the Royal Court now continues with a new piece by in-yer-face godfather Mark Ravenhill, which after its run here goes straight to the Schaubühne to join the three plays of his which are also in the repertoire. I’m not talking about cosiness, but consistency. This looks and feels very like a Schaubühne show: the combination of elegance and extremity, high concept and intense humanity is the same blend we have seen on visits to London of productions by that house’s artistic director Thomas Ostermeier.
The white, ceilinged but doorless box set that was used for von Mayenburg’s The Stone is now piled with packets of grocery and household products, from cornflakes to toilet roll. In this play about the personality conflicts of German reunification, we don’t need to consider materialism, we can see the material itself being applied… and, especially in the closing phase of the 70-minute piece, applied very messily to the body of Harry Treadaway. He plays Franz, brought up in the DDR by his father when his mother and twin brother Karl fled to the West, and now reunited with Karl in young adulthood, just as the two Germanies become one. The point is that they become one big West Germany: not a commingling but a takeover.
Franz’s twin Karl is played by Harry Treadaway’s twin Luke, in a so-simple-it’s-brilliant conceit. When “Karli” and “Franzl” speak each other’s sentences in unison and share their telepathic memories of crucial moments, our suspension of disbelief is of a different order than usual. Not that it’s difficult to tell them apart, even if they weren’t wearing different coloured underwear: Luke Treadaway, whose career so far has mostly been on stage, has greater physical precision, whereas Harry, who has done much screen work but is here making his stage début, is more fluid and natural in his movements.
Ravenhill’s script (which he co-directs with Ramin Gray) plays out clearly the differences in life and outlook between (former) “Ossis” and “Wessis”. It almost amounts to a Lehrstück, but without any condescension or priggishness in its didacticism. (To keep the ick factor raised, there is also a graphic allusion to the Armin Meiwes cannibalism case.) It will be very much against the taste of many; as for me, I loved it and I really want to see how it plays over there.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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