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Friedrich Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell by Roger Vontobel

Wilhelm Tell

Wilhelm Tell

Wilhelm Tell, Weimar 1804. Written by Friedrich Schiller, directed by Roger Vontobel.

Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus, Großes Haus, Row 15, Seat 423.

(This post originally appeared, in slightly different form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)

Holy shit, this blew me away. Watching Roger Vontobel’s Wilhelm Tell production at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus unfold reminded me of watching Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet with Danes and diCaprio ages ago.

To start with, Schiller’s Tell packs a lot more punch and is a lot more interesting and complex than most people remember.

Then, the roles of Werner and Gertrud Stauffacher were switched, so that Gertrud herself became the driving force of the revolution that she merely kicked off in the original play, and gets all the good lines. Which was a fantastic decision. (Also, Tell’s child, whom he teaches to hunt, takes with him, and has to shoot at in that famous scene, is his daughter.)

Next, Olaf Altmann’s stage design with a second suspended stage—that could be lowered, raised, and almost fully tilted forward & backward—opened up the play’s space for all kinds of horizontal and vertical depths, from metaphorical places of authority to literal places of gorges and mountain paths.

Finally, the play was highly operatic/cinematic with terrific lighting and an equally terrific progmetal score, composed by Keith O’Brien and performed live with his band on the side of the stage. (I happen to like progmetal a lot, so that was extra cool.) And while the play was strongly intensified and compactified throughout, the lines were performed as written—except Stauffacher’s first name, of course, and a modified Rütli Oath (»Wir sind ein einig Volk von Menschen!« instead of »Brüder«).

For the introduction, dramaturge Stijn Reinhold filled in on short notice for the lead. It was both informative and enjoyable, and peppered with hilarious gaffes like quoting »die Würde des Menschen ist antastbar« from the German constitution, correcting himself to »untastbar« when the audience pointed it out, or confusing »Heiliges Römisches Reich (Deutscher Nation)« with »Römisches Reich«. Very entertaining! 🙃

After the final applause and standing ovations had calmed down, the actors announced the opportunity to donate to an Ukrainian NGO on the way out, a call that was generously followed.

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