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Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Besuch der alten Dame by Laura Linnenbaum

Der Besuch der alten Dame

Der Besuch der alten Dame

Der Besuch der alten Dame, Switzerland 1956. Written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, directed by Laura Linnenbaum.

Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus, Großes Haus, Row 14, Seat 387.

(This post also appears, in slightly different form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)

The ensemble was great, to start with; it was highly enjoyable to watch them bring Dürrenmatt’s twisted characters to life. Equally great was Daniel Roskamp’s stage design. Its dreamlike desolation was reminiscent of earlier David Lynch movies, amplified by Jan Preißler’s stylized 1950s rockabilly score (and some more jazzy elements from the 1960s).

As for Linnenbaum’s direction, she did a great job at compactification—many of the play’s humorous elements and insane exaggerations, characters and dialogue lines alike, still work great as gags but no longer as running gags. I also liked that the play’s original trees—actors acting like trees in funny ways—were replaced by dead-tree props as a hat-tip to the climate catastrophe in the context of capitalism.

However, not all of that compactification did the play a favor. Some roles shouldn’t have been thrown out, particularly the “Butler” (the erstwhile judge) and “Koby & Loby” (the false witnesses Claire had had blinded and castrated and holds as pets). Without these, she comes across as too impartial, more like Audie Murphy’s Gant in Jack Arnold’s 1959 No Name on the Bullet than the actual monster she is (and knows she is). Also, leaving out her countless prosthetics, which rhyme very well with her personal brand of unstoppable brutal machine-like legalism, erased yet another subtext present in the original play. Finally, the play’s »retardierender Moment«—Alfred’s family car trip as a dreamlike Wirtschaftswunder locus amoenus—was sadly missing as well.

Another gripe I had was the priest playing a piano transcription of Bach’s »Erbarme Dich« on loop through an entire scene, an aria that comes from a different emotional context (and is just too on the nose). (Yes, the play does reference Bach’s Matthäus-Passion, albeit a chorale and only in dialogue.) Finally, it escapes me why emotions conveyed by dialogue are in need of being further illustrated by having the actors undress and crawl across the stage.

Lastly, a shout-out to the guy who did the introduction (this time I caught his name). It was certainly a good use of his time to brazenly read aloud 15 minutes worth of Dürrenmatt quotes at cesura-free medium-speed, followed by a summary of the play’s backstory, then switch to Ulrike Herrmann’s book on capitalism and to Linnenbaum for more quote reading. But it was certainly not a good use of the time of all those who showed up 45 minutes earlier to learn something interesting about the play and/or the production.


If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you on Mastodon!

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