Heiner Müller's "reworking" of Les Liaisons Dangéreuses is not a long text. Theatre Concept expand it to 90 minutes by having three actors make a tag-match of each of the two roles, with duplication of dialogue when they change over and the occasional gender-switch; by interrupting dialogue with bursts of experimental-theatre movement and a bit of artistic nudity; by including Nigel Bristow's running-humping-standing-still film based on quite a different Müller piece, accompanied by a quick song from the vocalist with Holy Joy; and ultimately by repeating the opening speech in German at the close. This is not a production through which light passes at all easily.
"Müller's humour," notes the programme, "is black" – Theatre Concept turn it to the colour of frozen mud. There is an insupportable weight of earnestness thrust upon us here, a relentless, funereal, portentous sullenness. Director Marc von Henning's concept, judged on its own terms, is comprehensive and fully realised, but I'm not convinced it's either use nor ornament: a palimpsest upon Müller's own palimpsest, lacking innate value or meaning per se, only as a result of our extrinsic knowledge. In Edinburgh's Richard Demarco Gallery Theatre (RIP), it might feel more at home; in the formless Lilian Baylis space, any impact just drains away.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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