By Arthur Schnitzler
Directed by Luc Bondy
Company: Young Vic
Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston
Date: Wednesday 21st April 2010
I have enjoyed Schnitzler’s work in the past, but then again…. This was a very trivial story, which may have been well translated, but the production left me cold. For the first time in my life, I found myself wanting to nod off, but that didn’t happen until about two thirds through the first half. The second half started better, what with an interesting performance from Hayley Carmichael as the busybody neighbour, always ready to pass on a bad word or two, and always from someone else’s opinion, not her own. The latter part of the scene, after the father had come and gone, was also more enjoyable, as we got to see the situation from the perspective of the two young women, Mitzi and Christine, but on the whole the second part was very predictable and not particularly interesting, and I was happy to catch up on my sleep some more during this part too. At least the first half had several funny lines in it, such as when Theo tells Fritz to play some music to accompany him having sex with Mitzi, and she tells Fritz to make it a short piece. The second half was all downhill, and became very dreary by the end.
The set was mainly on a large revolve, which did an approximately 90 degree turn each half, very slowly for the most part. There was a small extended area in front of the stage and large panels behind, with a circular frame suspended above the revolve which kept pace with it. For the first half, the location was the reception room in Fritz’s flat, with a grand piano, a sofa, a rumble seat and a screen on the revolve, a sideboard with various paraphernalia in the orchestra pit, and a window and several lights dangling from above. They also added candles and a table during the action. The panel at the back was a coral pink colour, and swept across the rear of the stage in graceful curves – a feminine backdrop to the male environment.
The second half was set in Christine’s bedroom, though you’d have thought it was a waiting room at Clapham Junction the way folk just strolled in and out. There was a bed, an arrangement of hanging rails, a table with a chess set beneath the window, two chairs, an empty music stand on the revolve and more music stands with chairs in the pit. Again, things were moved around so that the centre of the stage was clear for the final game of pass the parcel – Christine was determined to visit Fritz’s grave, her father, Mitzi and Theo kept grabbing her to stop her. That’s how it ended, apart from the sound effect of a shot. Costumes were 1920s style and very good.
The story was beyond simple. Fritz had fallen for a married woman, and Christine had fallen for him. Married woman’s husband challenges Fritz to a duel and kills him. Christine is terribly upset. Pass the parcel. That’s it. That’s what took nearly two and a half hours of stage time to tell. Amazing. Few of the characters were even remotely interesting, the stylised production made the whole thing even more antiseptic – why did they bother? A few people in the audience clearly appreciated this kind of thing, judging by their laughter at odd moments, but they were definitely in a minority. We changed seats during the interval, as did a number of others, so it was hard to tell just how many people had left during it, but we were nowhere near a full complement to begin with, and even less than that for the second half.
Steve and I had booked seats in the circle for this one originally, just to see what they were like, but were informed that we’d been moved, as there was some aspect of the set that blocked the view from that part of the auditorium. Search me what it was. The windows scarcely got round that far, and they were pretty insubstantial anyway. No, we decided it was probably just a ruse to cluster us all in the middle stalls because ticket sales had been so poor. We were happier with our new seats; well, I could snooze there just as well as in the other ones.
Despite all this criticism, I must praise all the actors, who gave very good performances. Sadly, the material and production just weren’t to our taste.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me