Susanne Kennedy’s newest work at the Volksbühne is a psychedelic trip into the netherworlds of reality. Entering into a virtual tunnel at the beginning of time, we meet Frank, who sets off on an “epic narrative of the self”, searching for answers to life’s most fundamental questions. In a virtual reality computer game, Frank is put through a series of tests – but death remains the constant outcome of them all. Regardless of how hard he tries to parse his experience, the only lesson seems to be that chaos is inevitable and fate is always out of our control. Using moody and dispassionate text, the actors deadpan their way through this trippy “ultraworld”, amped up by the seizure-inducing video design of Rodrik Biersteker and Markus Selg. The duo has programmed an 8-bit virtual reality full of candy-coloured dreams, three-dimensional trees and scorching deserts within a virtual void. Kennedy probes this existential emptiness with a synth-pop aesthetic, proving that people are nothing more than broken machines and, while we might try and break free of our mortal coils, the end is the same for us all. In its search for answers, ULTRAWORLD doesn’t so much as lead us to new conclusions as force us to see ourselves as co-creators in this game we call life. The only way out is in, intones a little girl at the beginning, and just like life, we have only one direction: forward – even if the ultimate outcome is predestined.
ULTRAWORLD | Directed by Susanne Kennedy. Volksbühne, Mitte. March 3 & 29, in German and English with English surtitles.