“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.
“the emotion and beauty with which Maliphant and Fouras dance, and create, together is truly stunning”
Maliphantworks3 opens with movement and light and sound, the three key ingredients of choreographer Russell Maliphant’s work. He is joined onstage by Dana Fouras, and together they investigate the relationship of these three components through a three-part evening of dance.
‘The Space Between’, our first act, begins as two dancers (Maliphant and Fouras) rise up from the floor, their facial features made indistinguishable by the patterns of animated light rippling across the stage, crawling up the walls. The piece was made in collaboration with video artist Panagiotis Tomaras, a collaboration which pushes even further the possibilities of light and shape to transform a space and the people who move within it. Maliphant and Tomaras designed the lighting together. Each section of the dance is marked by a change in light and a change in music (sound design by Fouras). In one, Maliphant dances solo, rising and falling, following light that forms like cells across the floor. In another the two dancers are visible alternately, each contained in separate squares of light that strobe faster and faster. Sometimes the sound design is so loud we can’t hear them move across the floor. Sometimes the sound design is so quiet we can hear the dancers breathe. Following their solos, the two dancers come together again for a finale duet, a beautiful moment of union.
The second part of the evening is two short films. Both films, which premiere tonight, have been created in collaboration with photographer Julian Broad. Dana Fouras dances in the first, a single figure swathed in material that means the silhouette of her body is continually changing as she moves. The second film is another solo piece, this time featuring Maliphant, who dances within a hanging orange elastic like he is testing gravity. This film is made up of many different shots, the light changing from one to the next, white then blue then grey.
The final part of our evening is once again live. A pulsing light transforms into an orange backlight that makes the dancers look close to silhouetted. A pulsing beat transforms into a light, fast strumming. In contrast to the speed of the music, the dancers’ move with a mesmerising slowness here, and there is an intense intimacy in the way they move with each other, around each other, over and under each other. This intimacy makes for a deeply moving performance, a fitting end to this triple bill of dance. This work, entitled ‘Duet’ returns to the stage after its success in Maliphantsworks2 in 2018.
Maliphantworks3 is a beautiful evening of dance, that redefines the relationship of movement with light and with sound. With an emphasis on duets in the programme, the emotion and beauty with which Maliphant and Fouras dance, and create, together is truly stunning.