Thursday, 12 May 2016

Drame Princes – Mladinsko, Ljublana

[seen 07/05/16]

I’m not sure I’ve fully got to grips with what to do with the work of Elfriede Jelinek. Or, rather, I’m totally sure I haven’t. It’s problematic work. We know that. It’s “problematic” even if you’re a fluent German speaker and are fully theatre-literate. I’m not even slightly that. And here, with Prinzessinnendramen: Der Tod und das Mädchen I–V, we have the extra problem that I’m watching English surtitles over a production in Slovenian by the Polish director Michał Borczuch. The five pieces are essentially postdramatic monologues alluding to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ingeborg Bachmann, Jacqueline Onassis, and Sylvia Plath – dense reflections on their mythologies and identities as critiques of Austrian patriarchal capitalism.

So it’s heavy going. Which is fine. Indeed, regular readers might assume I’d adore it. But, well, ultimately, one can only disavow one’s in-bred national tendencies so much. That very English desire to know “what’s it for?” “what am I meant to think?” becomes irrepressible sometimes. And this is probably exacerbated by the fact that reading the dense text in English, which is not even meant – really – to be translatable at all, let alone the fact that the strategies it uses would probably necessitate weeks if not months of study, when they feel like they should be second nature. Added to this, is the fact that Borczuch’s staging tends toward the stark, near empty stage, or else minimalise live-feed action, or other strategies of distantiation.

Imagine reading a third-generation translation of, I dunno, JH Pyrnne while women speak in a foreign language, their movements alienated from their words’ meanings. That’s where we are here.

Then there’s the fact that [when translated as just meaning] Jelinek text is just so relentlessly bleak and abrasive. Which, again, I should be up for, but there, on that day, at least, it just seemed so overdone. The relentlessness, the miserablism, the endless, endless sarcasm, irony, and not-even-definitely-real attacks on, oh, everything. The only element that really stuck for me in this production was when they played Sylvia Plath’s reading of her own poem Daddy (which is in English, tellingly), which, in the context of Jelinek’s prose, and being in real central Europe, suddenly feels a bit callow evoking Dachau, Auschwitz and Belsen like they were fairy tale places like Camelot. Plath’s drawly, arch delivery doesn’t help much either.

I mean, it’s still fascinating. I’m glad I saw it. I’d want to see a performance again of it again. But perhaps in English, next time, and with live commentary on it. Do I think having staged footnotes would be bad? No. Quite the reverse, I think they’d be excellent. I wonder, in fact, if the ideal UK solution to staging Jelinek is as a symposium or choreographed panel discussion.

It’s worth stating, however, that Damjana Černe as Jackie has won a national award for her performance, and was indeed strikingly good.

I really wish I’d liked the whole more, but somehow something didn’t click for me.  Trust me, I’m as annoyed about this as you are.  I don’t like not liking things and the most articulate reason to hand being that they’re too cynical. That doesn’t even sound like me. It sounds like Charles Spencer, FFS.

Anyway.  Enough.


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