Translated Review: Americanitis in Düsseldorf. Die Deutsche Bühne – November 2014

Brother Chekhov

 by Andreas Falentin

Die Deutsche Bühne 14/11/2014

Translated from German into English by Noëmi Steffen

It’s a relief! For once Chekhov’s text is not ruined by too much illustration, an actor’s heroics, by false melancholy, desperate deconstruction or the neurotic attempt to make it seem relevant. Just plain “Seagull”. And suddenly all of it feels very modern and you, as a spectator begin to understand what an excellent observer, what an expert but also friend of mankind Chekhov must have been, you understand now, why the play is called a “comedy” even if someone commits suicide. Because it is comic, how vain and egoistic they all are? And how they are themselves victims of their greed and their desires. Of course this has been done before. Over 20 years ago Louis Malle made a film called “Vanja on 42nd Street“. In this film he showed a run of “Uncle Vanja“ staged in a run down theatre with only hints of a set, the actors wearing their private clothes. But the award winning Pan Pan Theatre from Dublin present their Chekhov on a stage, a play about theatre using the tools of theatre.

The FFT stage is empty apart from a large white sheet which is spread out on the floor. On the right a ballet bar, a piano and a table for props. On the left a sounddesk. All the participants wear ballet clothes and they use their real names as character names. Even if they speak English (being a Dublin based company they are allowed to) the Düsseldorf audience can follow the storyline without problems and the “Seagull“ becomes visible very quickly. Again and again they break through their pattern of a very concentrated plot and fill in other pieces of text, partly written by the cast members. Those plays within the play have funny bird names like “the Oystercatcher“ or “the Gannet“ and remarkably they do not estrange you from the characters, if anything they make them richer and deeper.

Every now and again they dance (on different levels of skill, but always beautiful to look at) and at the climax of the show they dance “Swan Lake“, of course. It is clear from the beginning that the audience is part of this evening too. They are invited to join in, sometimes they are spoken to directly or looked at as if commenting on what happens on stage to a friend, sometimes they are asked to come on stage and be part of a scene with the actors. And how brilliant those actors are! They seem almost naked wearing only tight ballet costumes, which makes it impossible for them to act their roles as stereotypes. The spectator gets the feeling of being very close to them and might even catch a glimpse of their souls. And in those souls we find a lot of beautifully Chekhovian emptiness.

What makes the show so thrilling, laid-back and very modern, is the conceptual superstructure, their starting point: “Americanitis“ is a term for some sort of big city depression, usually found in major American  cities. Patients feel a detachment from life because it’s become too fast and too superficial. Only two things seem to matter: a successful career and a successful sex life. If you don’t have that, you basically cease to exist. And that’s also how the “Seagull“ works. Pan Pan Theatre stage it powerfully and sensually and very disciplined and with a whole lot of fun.