The Tin Drum
The Coronet Theatre
Reviewed – 25th February 2020
“We watch in a state of fascinated disgust as he struts and spits, leers and cries, throws tantrums and smashes things up.”
Günter Grass wrote The Tin Drum in 1959. It remains one of the defining novels of the 20th Century, and Oskar, its diminutive anti-hero, one of literature’s most extraordinary creations. It is epic in scope, and a hefty undertaking for a one-man stage adaptation, but Oliver Reese’s skilful adaptation, coupled with a bravura performance by Nico Holonics, will surely ensure that this Berliner Ensemble production takes its place in German theatrical history.
Reese’s adaptation follows the famous 1979 screen version, in that it focuses on the first two thirds of the book. Oskar narrates his family history, and we watch him as he matures into an adult in Dansik/Gdansk during the tumultuous years of the Second World War. Oskar’s is a deeply disturbed and disturbing voice. He is a creature of pure will; a manipulative and destructive tyrant who, quite literally, makes people march to the beat of his own drum, having succeeded in his first monstrous act of self-creation, to will himself not to grow. In many ways Oskar is fascism made flesh. He is a grotesque. And Nico Holonics’ visceral, compelling performance meets this grotesquerie head on. We watch in a state of fascinated disgust as he struts and spits, leers and cries, throws tantrums and smashes things up. He flirts with us; our presence feeds his monomaniacal narrative, so that, in a way that reading a book can never quite accomplish, we become complicit. It is an uncomfortable evening, at times stomach-churningly so, and all the better for it. We should never be comfortable with this piece of our history. We should feel sick to our stomachs. We should squirm in our seats.
An hour and fifty minutes is a long time to be held to attention by a single performance, and Holonics doesn’t drop the ball for a single second. Ably assisted by the superb sound and lighting design (credit to Jörg Gollasch and Steffen Heinke respectively), he drives the narrative on – with Oskar’s relentless, maniacal energy – in a way that simply crushes any attempt to measure time passing. We submit. We aren’t given a choice. For the most part. This relentless drive is actually occasionally broken – when Holonics breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience in English. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels frustrating; an unnecessary and distracting bit of easy comic relief which lets us off the hook and marginally diminishes the evening’s power.
Only marginally however. In these troubling times, with nationalism on the rise again in Europe, this Berliner Ensemble production serves as a gut-wrenching reminder of our capacity for destructive delusion. Performances of this power don’t come along very often. Catch it while you can.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Birgit Hupfeld
The Tin Drum
The Coronet Theatre until 29th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: