Is peace a thought away

Warriors and frontier artists

by Martin Krumbholz

Recklinghausen, May 10, 2012. Shortly before the end, on the occasion of a harmless concert light show on an open, empty stage, a mass exodus from the Festspielhaus begins. Enough. After all, you've already served more or less decently for five and a half hours, that's enough. The fourteen-member ensemble, who had gone to the stalls to start a discussion - quite deliberately at a precariously overstimulated point in the evening - returns once more, sits down in a densely packed cluster on the floor in order to conciliate those who remained in the hall ( or waving ironically). And those who persevered celebrate the actors and themselves with frenetic cheers. Quite rightly: it was a great evening.

 On a steep wall

But one after anonther. Anyone who wanted to have Leo Tolstoy's monumental novel "War and Peace" retold did not get their money's worth. Sebastian Hartmann, who came to Recklinghausen with his Leipzig ensemble plus a few illustrious guests, does not rattle off the plot in his play version - which is often so boring when it comes to adapting novels. Rather, the director atomizes the extensive material, dividing it according to thematic aspects such as marriage, birth, death, war, serfdom, metaphysics and so on.

The stage, designed by Hartmann and the artist Tilo Baumgärtel, consists of two huge movable panels, but essentially of a sloping incline of different angles, illuminated from the ramp, on which the bodies of the players can hardly find a support. Music (by Sascha Ring / Apparat) will be produced live in front of the ramp. And the actors are not fixated on roles (there are hundreds in the original), but change them constantly, regardless of age and gender. And this concept forces the viewer not to orientate themselves by the fable - there is no longer any - but to join the ongoing discourse, whether they like it or not.

Captivating images

It is by no means as dry as it sounds. Because time and again the director and the actors succeed in captivating, beguiling images - with the whole ensemble, in twos, alone. If, for example, Lisa's newborn baby (she dies in childbirth) suddenly turns into little Napoleon Bonaparte - and back again. When two women, sitting next to each other, jealously and lovingly at the same time, talk about the beautiful, reckless Anatol and his marriage plans. When the Commander-in-Chief Kutuzov argues lonely about empty, evacuated Moscow. When the rough old Prince Bolkonski confronts his daughter, whom he considers ugly, with an apparently clear, in truth brutal dichotomy in the face of a questionable marriage candidate: yes or no. If his son, Prince Andrej, declares that for a single moment of fame - that is, the love of the masses - he would gladly give up everything else, including the love of those close to him.

all pictures © Rolf Arnold

Crossing boundaries

Sebastian Hartmann strings existential situations like pearls on a chain, but not because they are important plot points, he doesn't care. Rather, an intelligent (also exhausting) discourse develops here from the diverse playful possibilities of a fabulous ensemble that knows no main and secondary roles, but only the seemingly unlimited potential of each individual.

The crossing of borders - after all a striking, perhaps the decisive feature of the war - becomes the secret main topic. If actresses stick a mustache on themselves, they will not be mistaken for men, but they will understand that they can imitate the behavior of men with complete conviction. But even death does not appear here as an insurmountable border: the characters, Andrej for example, die many deaths that evening. It is in the nature of the game to stop, reverse and reflect upon natural processes.

And ultimately, the success of the evening also means that even the precarious succeeds. When a naked actor strips a short actress and carries it across the stage in his arms - like (perhaps) Christopherus the Savior - this image of (not only ideal, but also physical) love could slip away into well-intentioned kitsch. That doesn't happen because, miraculously, almost everything succeeds in this production, for which Tolstoy's novel provided the content but not the form.

war and peace
after Leo Tolstoy
Director: Sebastian Hartmann, stage: Sebastian Hartmann, Tilo Baumgärtel, costumes: Adriana Braga Peretzki, music: Apparat (Sascha Ring), lighting: Lothar Baumgarte.
With: Manolo Bertling, Manuel Harder, Matthias Hummitzsch, Guido Lamprecht, Hagen Oechel, Berndt Stübner, Susanne Böwe, Artemis Chalkidou, Janine Kreß, Heike Makatsch, Linda Pöppel, Birgit Unterweger, Cordelia Weg, Jana Zöll.
Duration: 5 hours, two breaks

More about the director's work Sebastian Hartmann can be found in the lexicon.

Review Circular

This adaptation of the novel, which claims "to trace the essence of 'war and peace' rather than the plot," is the "highlight of the first week of the festival" in Recklinghausen, writes Cornelia Fiedler in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (May 12, 2012). "Highlights, scraps, strands of thought from the novel have congealed into images, carried by the strong, lustful, often ironic, then touching play of the ensemble." The Leipzig team and their guests "evoke a collage of humanity that is loosely based on the figures, but surprisingly close to Tolstoy's thoughts on war, the philosophy of history and human nature. After more than four hours and two pauses, the remaining audience applaud an experiment that sometimes inspires and sometimes annoys, but definitely burns itself in. "

Sebastian Hartmann dared "the forced march to monumentalism and showed an essence of the quasi-philosophy of Tolstoy until after midnight", writes Ralph Wilms for the WAZ portal The West (May 11, 2012). A "great ensemble performance", unfortunately also "too much roar", especially in the choral passages, can be experienced. As a choir, "Die Räuber" (by Nicolas Stemann) were more convincing last year. "Sebastian Hartmann has the stronger images for that." Yes: "Some of the images in this oversized production have a much stronger effect than the words of the bitter novelist" Tolstoy. The focus of the evening is "Tolstoy's ethical program. The choir makes this clear in the first moments of the performance when it lists the crimes that war apparently legitimizes. But it is also an ethic that Tolstoy uses against his own cynicism, against disdain for the church and private world disgust. "

Arnold Hohmann also has a "largely exciting evening", an "intrepid and enthusiastic guard of actors" and "pictures of impressive intensity", also for the portal of the WAZ group The West (May 11, 2012) experienced. But the exodus of the audience makes him think: The evening is "like the war on the stage: after each of the two breaks you complain about further losses in the auditorium." It is after all "a risk to conceive such a huge and exhausting theater project for one evening, let alone to place it on a weekday like in Recklinghausen".

Alexander Kohlmann praises in the program "Conclusion" Deutschlandradio Kultur (May 10, 2012) the evening as "an overstrain of the audience, each of whom has to distill their meanings and perhaps even some answers from the abundance of associations." The ensemble dedicates itself "with devotion to Hartmann's reflection on the great, existential questions of humanity". Especially in the first part, Hartmann "succeeds in cutting between scenes and spaces faster than a film director ever could. And that alone is a real triumph for the theater."

For the online portal of world (May 11, 2012) writes Stefan Keim: "For four hours the performance is varied, stimulating, with some lengths. After the second break, however, it becomes terrific." The production "combines debate theater with over-the-top playfulness and great show values". Hartmann's actors would "create intensity in the twinkling of an eye, break it comedically, and then get on again in earnest". The director "demands a lot of brain capacity, and sometimes he deliberately overwhelms his audience", which here - unlike in Leipzig - did not leave in protest, but rather exhausted in parts.

For the Leipziger Volkszeitung (September 22nd, 2012) Dimo ​​Riess attended the Leipzig premiere and experienced "Philosophical discourse theater that relies on a lot of words - and is therefore always overwhelmed - on a variable stage construction that allows highly symbolic images and on the effect of music". After an "entertaining first act" there would be "tiresome dialogues, overstretched choreographies and attempts at comedy", later also "follies that become a concept in the third part". This final phase also had "oppressive theatrical moments", but "the great moments of the previous hours" were watered down in the "rain of joke".

Quotes about the production's guest performance at the 50th Berlin Theatertreffen 2013:

Doris Meierhenrich reports in the Berlin newspaper (May 10, 2013), "that in the end not only the well-deserved applause breaks out, but also a committed chorus of boos." Thus: "Best suitability for a theater meeting. Simple-minded sympathy would also have been downright ungrateful for this much daring, much winning and also much losing evening." Here Tolstoy is reassembled, a "kind of concentrated disruption" is the principle of the evening. "A visually strong staging to be happy and annoyed, to which you have to work your way through in the course of the evening, away from any novel fixation in the head, away from the variety and delicacy of the characters, to a figure-free speech workshop, to the text as plasticine, the Events are thematically intertwined, regardless of whether they take place in 1805 or 1813. "

"The ego with its illusions - it will be squashed in many ways on this evening," reports Andreas Schäfer in the Daily mirror (May 10, 2013). The way in which the novel is brought to the stage without "simple-minded replaying the plot" is convincing to the critic. Hartmann proceeded "motivically" and renounced "fixed figure attributions". Likewise, "the tone changes constantly, from haughty pathetic to caricaturing exaggeration. The quiet scenes in the middle section, in which God, repentance, loss and the questions of meaningful life are seriously discussed, are strong Tolstoy's powerful struggle for the good, the spirit of the great epic is there for an hour or two. " However, the critic has little to gain from the freedoms that the director took out in the last part of the evening. As if there were the freedoms "of the uninhibited slapstick and the unmotivated grimacing, in which the characters quickly shrivel up to laughing numbers".

"In the end you are dead tired and somehow animated again", reports Hans Peter Göpfert in rbb cultural radio (May 10, 2013). "You will not agree with all the obsessions and associations that Hartmann reads out of Tolstoy's novel, and that Sascha Ring alias 'Apparat' and his live musicians let drift out of the electronic box on ever new atmospheric sound fields." But: "Hartmann's scenic way of reading and thinking is consistently astonishing."

For (May 8, 2013) Mounia Meiborg discusses the Theatertreffen guest performance of the production in a shorty.