They fuck you up, your mum and dad, wrote Philip Larkin, and one suspects Christian Kracht might agree. The postmodernist provocateur’s latest novel Eurotrash (2021) is stripped-back to a punchy, emotionally layered two-hander set on a ship in director Jan Bosse’s first outing at Berlin’s Schaubühne.
Setting sail from a psychiatric clinic in Zürich, up into the Alps in search of Edelweiß and back down again, mother and son (played by Joachim Meyerhoff – a bestselling author in his own right – and the beloved Angela Winkler) embark on a voyage of self-discovery encompassing a Nazi past, a knitting commune, David Bowie fandom and sexual abuse.
Winkler’s chronically ill matriarch – sadly given much too little dialogue to work with – is frail, eccentric, addicted to alcohol and a cornucopia of psycho-pharmaceuticals. She also comes fitted with a colostomy bag, a symbol perhaps of her wounded vulnerability, the emotional shit oozing from past trauma, a stinking, open wound she insists her son attend to in a moving reverse pietà. Between slapstick and pathos there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, until mother and son’s incessant bickering gets a little too tedious and you suddenly feel far adrift from the pacy wit of the opening half.
Finally though we reach the final destination: the ship sinks into the stage floor and the set’s backdrop falls away to reveal the theatre’s unsightly internal organs, complete with scaffolding and an emergency exit. Mother and son say their awkward final farewell and suddenly you’re hit by the sheer tragedy of it all.
Its an emotional gut punch, there’s no more wryness or slyness, no more pithy one-liners: here stand two deeply traumatised people, exposed in stone-cold-sober earnestness, heartbreakingly unable to communicate as one of them heads for the most final exit of all.
Kracht described his novel as a farewell – and a tribute – to his mother who died two days after he finished writing it. Bosse’s Eurotrash pulls it off in the end: less Plato’s ship of fools, more life-raft for the dysfunctional and damaged. Do go see it: it won’t fuck you up, but it will leave you in tears.
Eurotrash Schaubühne through 30 Jan 2022