An absconding bank-clerk in search of raw primal experience settles on the thrill of a sports stadium.  “Feel the life, the roar of the crowd!..  All one, all screaming from all galleries, roaring, yelling… released from the slavery of wages and society!”   He’s looking out at us, moustache a-bristle, as he says this. But I cannot report that the Lyttelton audience was roaring.   Concentratedly respectful of Georg Kaiser’s 1912 German Expressionist classic (in a new version by Dennis Kelly); trusting it to mean something,  occasionally risking a laugh.  Not roaring.

Not bored,  though,  and enjoying  Melly Still’s fast-moving direction and Soutra Gilmour’s inventive sets.  A whole room rises overhead askew,  a giant sheet becomes a blizzard where our hero wrestles a skeleton hand and shouts at a skull-faced imaginary woman.  Later we get rudeish Weimar cabaret turns and a Salvationist revival meeting to keep us going.  Without such diversions,  though, this stylized study of disillusion, the emptiness of money and the tedium of city life could be pretty hideous.   It spoke importantly to Kaiser’s period and society, and will fascinate students of that time, but to be honest its message boils down to “Is this all there is?‘   and “money can’t buy happiness”. Neither statement feels either new or, in this style, especially engaging.

Melly Still certainly enjoys the stylization.  In that classic of deflation,  Cold Comfort Farm,  the intellectual Mybug enthuses about a new wave film where “they wear glass clothes and move in time to a metronome” .  I confess that this flitted through my head in the opening sequence  as a bank counter revolves ever faster like the clock, and scuttling jerky customers and staff speed up, pausing for a cartoonish exchange between a customer and manager in fat-suits (heavy literalists, these Germans).    Behind the grille is the expressionless Clerk himself,  Adam Godley,  with a cruel centre parting and the kind of ‘tache-and-glasses combo usually found fixed together in joke shops.  A fur-clad Italian bourgeoise brushes against his hand  and provokes a moment of madness.  He grabs the cash,  rushes out to find her, then onward in terror at what he has done attempts a brief interlude with his family before walking out,  causing Grandma to drop dead and his wife to reject her daughters  (seems even an idiot male is better than none).

Crying  “I want to experience something!” and writhing like a hybrid of Basil Fawlty and Woody Allen, he seeks fulfilment in a graveyard, stadium and nightclub (Pierette has a wooden leg so he never gets his own over).  Godley is a bit of a hero,  having returned to the rush-and-clamber  of this production after an operation on his arm, still bandaged.  It ends with revivalist preaching and an electro-crucifixion tableau which annoyed the scholarly German lady next to me, for reasons I failed  to grasp completely on the way out.  I had a train to catch.

Box Office 020 7452 3000   to  11 Jan

Rating   three   3 Meece Rating3 Meece Rating


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