Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
  Opened 14 May, 2009

Hegel preferred this dramatic version by Goethe of the Greek myth to Euripides’ for its purity of motive. In the ancient version Orestes and his sister Iphigenia, each amazed to find the other alive and themselves reunited in distant Scythia, steal an icon of the goddess Diana from the temple and make good their escape; in Goethe, the matter of the icon is circumvented, Iphigenia pleads with King Thoas to permit them to depart and he eventually concedes, though not before much “if I can’t have her, no-one can” murderous muttering.

Not much nobility is on display in Jossi Wieler’s Schaubühne production: Burghart Klaußner’s Thoas gives in with a bad grace and mooches off the stage in a sulk. This, however, is as nothing compared to his unpalatable wooing of Iphigenia earlier. She seems psychologically stuck at the young age at which Diana whisked her off from the sacrificial altar at Aulis more than a decade earlier: Judith Engel’s excellent central performance begins in a party dress, twirling her right foot childishly and reciting many of her lines in a post-traumatic sing-song. Thoas works up from simply leaning towards her up the steep, grass-turfed rake of the stage (somehow he manages to leer with his hips) to paedophilic groping even as she recounts that she is not just the high priestess of Diana but, as she believes, the last survivor of the doomed house of Atreus. No wonder the poor girl seems cracked.

When entering full priestess mode to preside over the execution of two new arrivals, she dresses a little older in black gown and patterned tights, but her mannerisms are still those of a dysfunctional teenager. As one of the newcomers (not yet revealed as Orestes), Ernst Stötzner is pathologically melancholy, peeping out from his anorak only to remark on how he seeks death. When Iphigenia reveals herself to him after he has disclosed his own identity, he can hardly bring himself even to touch her and departs raving about it being fitting that his own sister should execute him. (Stötzner is also nearly 20 years older than Urs Jucker who plays his childhood friend Pylades; no matter how much privation Orestes has suffered, he wouldn’t be this grey and gaunt.)

Brother and sister eventually find sanity and salvation in each other, but in this final phase Wieler’s interpretation runs out of steam somewhat. A Greek tragedy with a happy ending can be somewhat problematic.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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