Playwrights searching for a tragedy need only look at German history. Heiner Müller took the turbulent course of Deutschland’s past as inspiration for his fragmentary collage-plays Germania. Tod in Berlin and Germania 3, turning it into a grotesque farce. The former play, written in 1977, charts German history through 13 scenes beginning with the 1953 East German uprising, and was banned from being performed in the GDR until 1989. Germania 3, on the other hand – a sequel of sorts and a montage of ghosts from the 20th century – was written after reunification in the years before the author’s death in 1995. Müller’s texts are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance of late and that’s down to their historical prescience: were he alive today, he’d surely be revelling as the all-too-predictable cracks of capitalism and scars of reunification start to show. Claudia Bauer stitches these plays together and masterfully captures the absurd, parodical essence of Müller’s texts that reject any apparent logic to the cruel randomness of history. Bauer’s postdramatic style, quarterback-frock costumes and skeleton puppets channel the random, clownish tendencies of his work, and the absurd portrayal of Stalin (Malick Bauer) and Hitler (Katja Gaudard) in a blood-soaked, shit-stained bathtub make for a particularly memorable highlight. Yet somehow all this slapstick too often falls flat and over the course of three hours, the sheer number of associations and layers of meaning become somewhat overwhelming. It’s hard work to follow, but still one of the most exciting Volksbühne productions in recent memory.
Germania | Directed by Claudia Bauer. Volksbühne, Mitte. Jan 23, 19:00, with English surtitles.