There is something to be said for watching a play while not understanding the spoken language of it. You experience the overall design in a heightened way. That is, given that you’re not disengaged or bored by the performances. Watching Alles Für das Feuer, inspired by Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, I was captivated by the costumes and the hanging, parallel white paper-like cutouts of the set. I think it’s a huge challenge to tackle period material and myth with a contemporary eye. How to take tragedy and make it look yes, hip and simultaneously mythic? Wagner, in composing Tristan und Isolde, was influenced deeply by Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation). This is not easy material, dilemmas about desire and free will and inner peace, require a special approach and treatment to make them accessible and real to contemporary audiences.
I asked Credi (aka Christian Thurm who is in charge of the technical department and the chief designer at Schnawwl) about the paper hangings. They look ethereal and so difficult to suspend. He said they were in fact a thin polystyrene fabric that is used to protect young saplings on streets. They give the appearance of rice paper. They suspend 16 of these but the effect is that of many more. They are hung with a magnet and plumb-line like device that makes it simple to raise and lower. The over all effect is that of an ice cathedral, ancient and vast. As I write I am sitting in the Schnawwl foyer and a group of 16 year olds have entered the theatre to watch it – what will they make of it, I wonder? Will they feel it’s luminous spirit? Will they resonate with the costume ideas?
Manga – comics – paper – transience.
Eva Roos is the head costume designer and Manga comics were her inspiration for this production. When I first saw Isolde (played by Jule Kracht) on stage, what came to mind was the Milla Jovovich character in Luc Besson’s Fifth Element. Raw, brave and radical, in a red spiky wig and an ivory mini. Her sister Brangäne, (played by Simone Oswald) wore a pale blue silk mini dress with horizontal pin tucks and a long silver blonde wig. Both wore chunky black boots, in typical Manga fashion. The men were even more interesting in layers of metallic grey and chain armour fabric that contributed to a real feeling of heroism while staying strangely modern. I remember the use of that chain armour fabric in the Matrix series. It has a way of looking ancient - summoning memories of duels, warriors, weaponry - and yet remaining very cool.
I am so curious about what she’ll come up with for the Ramayana. Most productions of Indian myths either succumb to the high culture burden or resort to a filmi rendition of quasi-Indian costumes. Even in Peter Brook’s Mahabharatha, all I remember are solemn robes in beige, brown and ivory. Gandhari wore maroon and a blindfold. The costumes worked to increase pompousness but eliminated irreverence or lightness, which is as much part of the great Indian myths as philosophy or wonder. For the most part, the universalizing intention of the production eased out any creases of difference and didn’t leave space for quirk or idiosyncrasy. But note, that in a traditional Mudiyettu performance or in Yakshgana or in Harikatha, there is always place for bawdy humour and tom-foolery.