Thalia Theater revive the spirits of Remarque and Barbusse at the Edinburgh International Festival
This article is from 2014.
Thalia Theater's production, set in Belgium 1914–18 and based on classic anti-war literature by Erich Maria Remarque and Henri Barbusse, initially seems like a radio broadcast, until individual testimonies unfurl like battered flags. There are, among others, a naive young recruit (Steffen Siegmund) a terrifying, sadistic Lieutenant, De Witt (Steven van Watermeulen) an English nursing sister (Oana Solomon) and a frantic mother seeking word on her son (Katelijne Verbeke). All are struggling with their sanity, knowing each minute could be their last.
The monochrome clad cast of eleven are excellent, talking in German, English, French and Flemish. The bleakness which at times almost threatens to engulf the piece is lightened by sly humour, choreography that recalls the ferocity of the whirling dervish and precious moments of survival: soldiers enjoying cigarettes and Cognac, playing football and trying to seduce local women by bringing scarce supplies – loaves of bread and liver sausage.
The coruscating, brutal lyricism is perfectly integrated with the polyphonic sound and Philip Bussmann's stunning video projection. Thunder is played by cast members with steel sheets. Shrieks and drones consistently hum, fading to a plaintive woman's song.
But it's the stillness in between, the silence filled with uncertainty and anticipation, which most chills in this sobering, necessary drama.
Royal Lyceum, run ended.