The Berliner Volksbühne has always had a soft spot for the revue, for example when Christoph Schlingensief devotedly parodied, misused and celebrated the format of the television show in the heyday. Since René Pollesch became artistic director, the genre has become the house’s most popular program filler in many variations, sometimes with overwhelming karacho and hard work on excess as in the shows by Florentina Holzinger, but more often without fear of the embarrassment of free-running dilettantism: amateur theater de luxe. Somewhere in between is Fabian Hinrich’s daring attempt to make his directorial debut. The choice of subject matter is unusual, Hinrichs devotes himself to the verse drama “Sardanapalus” by the British romantic Lord Byron, written in 1821 and dedicated to Goethe, which may have rightly not been performed for a long time.
Byron celebrates the Assyrian king Sardanapalus as a hedonistic hedonist and denier of reality, an anarchist on the throne. This is, of course, a self-portrait of the romantic poet as an artist who transgresses boundaries: the only reality is myself with my dreams, bye bye reality principle. Hinrichs continues this crossfade, Byron and Sardanapal become the explosives with which the director shoots himself out of the sober, limited present in order to celebrate art itself, or perhaps just the assertion of his own radical artistry. The fact that the borrowings from the good old aesthetics of genius smell a little musty is the smallest problem of the confused evening. The fact that the director lost his leading actor Bennys Claessens the day before the premiere can also be overcome, if only because Benny Claessens always plays Benny Claessens out of sheer self-fascination.
At the premiere, Fabian Hinrichs throws himself into battle, libretto in hand, as his own stand-in lead. And because Hinrichs enchants every stage, no matter how big, with his unprotected play, which shimmers at least ambiguously between innocence and sophistication, it definitely has charm, radiance and a trace of the most beautiful madness. Hinrich’s partner is the equally anarchically glowing actress Lilith Stangenberg, who plays a Rewe saleswoman as mysterious and abysmal as Aphrodite a few scenes later. In one of the few successful scenes, the question of a gentleman in a suit (Hinrichs) in the queue in front of the supermarket checkout is enough, which is why the cashier always seems so absent, what is she dreaming about, to leave the disenchanted reality behind. The lady at the checkout dreams of the sea, of foreign countries, of a life in Byron’s dream kingdoms: the beach lies under the supermarket floor.
Then the evening slips into confusion, sometimes helping himself to Paul Celan, sometimes Lord Byron Abbas “Dancing Queen”, at the circus, at AC/DC, in veil and sword dances. A student orchestra works on Gustav Mahler. Young dancers from the hip-hop academy Flying Steps show off their youthfulness. Unfortunately, Hinrichs and Stangenberg are the only actors on stage. At least the message is nice: rhinestones instead of stress, “Eat, drink and love, the rest isn’t worth a penny.” These sayings are not worth more than a few cents. For one of the biggest theatre country, this evening of not unsympathetic trial and error is decidedly too awkward and a little too narcissistic.