Karl Kraus was one of the most acutely-observing writers in the German language and Time Zone Theatre now presents the epilogue of Kraus’ epic piece The Last Days of Mankind: The Last Night in a new translation by Edward Timms and Fred Bridgham.
Together with Shoot, I Didn’t Mean That, a piece of new writing by Catriona Kerridge, this double bill creates a worrying lesson on humanity’s inability to learn from past mistakes. Other mechanisms and gestures around the event of war are pulled into focus and their macabre absurdity is revealed.
Not the pathos around male sacrifice but the stories of four women are at the centre of the Kerridge’s play which forms the first part of the evening. The story cuts between a British traveler, an interpreter and two school girls all of which are confronted with circumstances that force them to reflect and act on war itself, and on what the symbols around it mean in modern life.
Alexine Lafaber plays a tourist in Vienna who does the Nazi salute in front of a Jewish shop keeper and is subsequently put into jail. With her physicality becoming some sort of a hyperbolic manifestation of all the radicalised and mismatched comprehension of historic events, Lafaber delivers a surprisingly personal comedic performance.
Emily Bairstow’s boldness in her role as an interpreter at an international human rights court reminds at times of a young Julianne Moore. Here the traduttore-traditore is done with betraying her own beliefs and refuses to be the voice of further apologetic paralysis. Although confined to a tiny glas cubicle Bairstow dances with tango with Catriona Kerridge’s clever text which is enriched with pop culture one-liners and lots of laughs. Every insincere apology she’s forced to translate charges her up and has her almost bouncing against the walls.
Remembrance rituals and formal education around the two big wars often provide a lot of context and historical facts. It is astonishing, however, how often they seem to fail to equip young people with the necessary tools to make sense of the recent influx of violent news images of kidnappings, killings and refugee life which are broadcast from conflict areas in the middle east. Although this strand of the narrative might jar tonally with the more comedic rest of the piece, the story of the two school girls (played Jocasta King and Alexa Hartley) grounds the piece in a worrying reality where radicalisation can happen to anyone.
In Shoot Director Pamela Schermann goes for a no-nonsense straightforward style allowing the actors to breathe around the serious moments without ever imposing on the witty script. The second half finds the jolly tango turned into a sinister Totentanz. Schermann pulls off visually enthralling collage of Kraus’ epic The Last Days of Mankind which was written as a response to the outbreak of the First World War.
The stage, given an apocalyptic stony cliff-like look by designer Mike Lees, is no longer broken up into three segments but is entirely filled with the mayhem of fight and death. The same four female performers, now equipped with gas masks, become soldiers, hyenas and ruthless war correspondents. Highlighting humanity’s inability to learn from past mistakes the director blends references to wars from different centuries into the picture. Kraus’ measured language is mixed and jumbled by rumbling lighting and flashing sounds – it’s effective and engulfing. Moralising was far from the creator’s minds; these pieces are dark satires – and don’t you ever foget it.
Karl Kraus Poem in “Die Fackel” 1933/Translation
>A response to The Last Days of Mankind: The Last Night
Man frage nicht, was all die Zeit ich machte/Don’t ask what all this time I did
>I laugh about the woman doing the Nazi salute.
Ich bleibe stumm/I remain speechless
> Mortified by the sound of my own laugh.
und sage nicht, warum./and don’t say why.
> I’m German.
Und Stille gibt es, da die Erde krachte./And silence where the earth shattered.
> When the final bomb hits I applaud.
Kein Wort, das traf;/No words to find;
>”Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, she sings. Apologies are useless when you don’t learn.
man spricht nur aus dem Schlaf./only talk in sleep.
> My generation washes (and washes and washes) its hands of the atrocities
Und träumt von einer Sonne, welche lachte./And dream of a sun that once shone.
> by remembering.
Es geht vorbei;/It passes;
> The shot the girls fire is final. The bullet irrevocable.
nachher war’s einerlei./in the end it never mattered.
> Somewhere they still shoot. Always will.
Das Wort entschlief, als jene Welt erwachte./The word passed away when that world woke.
> Noone learns. A monstrous laugh.