From Christine DosselNationaltheater Mannheim: new venue opened with Brechtin de
Those who were not informed could have taken the opening of the new venue of the National Theater Mannheim for a hardware store inauguration. The site is in the northeast of the city, between Käfertal and Vierheim, and the theater’s new logo looks a lot like Obi. The taxi gets lost between construction site fences, and if you take the tram, it can happen that you are going in the wrong direction and only notice it a stop before Heidelberg, as happened to a visitor from Hamburg. Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region. The cities are very close together. But a huge former army base like the Benjamin Franklin Village only exists in Mannheim.
Since the withdrawal of the US Army between 2012 and 2014, the 300-hectare military site has been a conversion area, i.e. it is to be converted into an urban, green, ecologically sustainable living space. Quarters for 10,000 people are to be built on the barracks. The National Theater has already settled. At least temporarily, estimated five years, until the main store on Goetheplatz is completely renovated. The interim venue is called “Old Movie Theater Franklin” and was actually once the cinema of the US garrison. For the use of the theatre, it was extensively rebuilt for 15 million euros, while retaining the beautiful wooden roof construction. In the foyer a long counter and brightly colored walls, in the auditorium a spacious, steeply rising grandstand with seats for 500 spectators. “theatre is great cinema”, is the new merchandising slogan.
The young director Charlotte Sprenger has also made it her own for her opening production, in which she really lets things rip in terms of scenery. “The good man from Sezuan” is played by Bertolt Brecht, a prime example of epic instructional theatre. The parable about the mechanisms of capitalism and the question of whether people can be good in a bad, profit-oriented world premiered 80 years ago, the author was born 125 years ago. But nothing looks old about this lavish evening, which knows how to convince, especially in the second half, when the ensemble has freed itself and played itself out of some youth theater-like silliness and offensives. The 32-year-old director has a sense of humor and a refreshingly irreverent, imaginative approach to the play, clearly a talent even if she’s still searching, bluffing, hesitating, mixing and sampling theatrical fads. But there are at least ten people on stage all the time, and the way she arranges, choreographs, plays and keeps them entertained is quite skillful.
The director makes her own rhyme with the old Brecht. We are concerned: He is still right
The original, bombastic stage designed by Aleksandra Pavlović shows a neon-colored, secularized church interior decorated with huge foam roses. A profane converted place of worship with ornamental tiles, deck chairs, pink columns. Screens are attached to the top of the pillars, on which news, weather reports and video images flicker. At the back of the stage, fluorescent tube-like organ pipes rise up in a monstrous emblem. In between, organ and church music does occasionally sound, but as a rule, there is whispering elevator music, recorded live by Jonas Landerschier and Philipp Plessmann. They also edited Paul Dessau’s original music for the piece, rough and crookedly beautiful. Quite an effort, all of that, including the diverse costumes by Bettina Werner, which range from cheap fashion to glam fashion and are fantastically impressive. Particularly cute: the fluffy shark costume with diving bottles worn by the water seller Wang (Leonard Burkhardt).
In Brecht’s play, it is this Wang who, in the Chinese province of Sezuan, encounters the three gods who are looking for a good man on earth. He takes her to the prostitute Shen Te, who harbors the celestials and in return gets enough money to open a tobacco shop. Getting out of misery and doing good, that’s her goal now. Unfortunately, as the “angel of the suburbs” she is so exploited and ripped off that she soon faces ruin. In her distress, Shen Te invents a second, more evil self: She becomes Shui Ta, her supposed cousin. In this disguise she is the ruthless capitalist the system demands. Only those who are egoistic get through.
Charlotte Sprenger runs her own game with Brecht’s alienation effects and principles of role-playing. One of the director’s witty ideas is that no gods appear here – even with Brecht they were only “observers”, not interveners – instead Wang acts as a playmaker and chooses three women from the bustling crowd on stage as goddesses: Ragna Pitoll, Jessica Higgins and Annemarie Bruntjen. All three will each take on a human role in the parable improv that then begins, whereby Annemarie Brüntjen hesitates to play the Shen Te (“I’m not good!”), but is cheered on by everyone. How she then literally puts on this role, slowly growing into it, splitting it up into a luminous, tender soul and an increasingly tough guy who becomes a factory owner and exploiter, that has charisma. Brüntjen is the beating heart of the production, also touching in her unbreakable love for the unemployed aviator Yang Sun (Arash Nayebbandi). The songs from “Saint Neverland” and from the “Eighth Elephant” are highlights. And the end also sparks when the young director makes her own rhyme with the old Brecht. We are concerned: He is still right.