Werner Shwab’s final play, performed here as part of Just A Must’s English premiere tour of this previously German language-only production, proved to be nothing if not challenging.
The Austrian, who died in 1994 at the age of 34, deliberately set out with this in mind through a morass of modernist language, Brechtian self-reference and dizzying philosophical debate.
With mostly silent reaction punctuated with the odd chuckle and even audience members walking out, this largely narrative-less meander offered a humorous examination of the role of realism in theatre and, indeed, life.
Staging the traditional play-within-a-play, a selection of hateable cartoon-like stage clichés (Ben Hood’s phallus-obsessed camp Queer Theatre stage designer; Drew McKenzie’s ageing debauched playwright), had creative differences while trying to put on an erotic play about the elderly and, later, involving the elderly too.
Consistently brilliant performances (Niall Murray as dictatorial director Saftmann stood out) made the unpalatable palatable as the conservative, soulless state of modern theatre was laid bare.
Schwab’s idea was to alienate the audience from familiar tropes to embrace something new, scathing and uncompromising. The result was a distinctive, ultimately satisfying show that did that rarest of things – actually made you think, rather than just claiming to do so.