Sunday, October 15, 2006

REVIEW: Emilia Gallotti (The Gaiety, Dublin)

There are many ways a director might ask for attention at the start of a show, but it is hard to beat the one hit upon by Michael Thalheimer for the opening of Emilia Galotti. As Emilia (Katharina Schmalenberg) wanders down the centre of the Gaiety stage to the slow pulse of a string section, fireworks erupt behind her, unfurling a huge curtain of bright, white sparks over the stage. Ok, we're all sitting up straight: what now?

"What now" turns out to be one of the highlights of the festival, a version of the classic German drama polished and compressed, and told with a restraint that oozes style by Deutsches Theatre Berlin.

Lessing's eighteenth century drama concerns a young woman who catches the eye of a powerful prince and pays the ultimate price when the nobleman decides he must have her. But the production uses the play largely as a launch pad, stripping away obvious scene changes and letting the actors create moods and emotion through body movements, often wordless.

It is as though we have caught this play in the middle of changing into a dance piece, a sense that is underlined by the score (a version of music from Wong Kar-wai's film In the Mood for Love) which plays throughout, pausing only at the most intense moments. There are subtitles for the German spoken, but much of the communication is entrusted to poses, pokes of the finger, staggering walks, and even a long, violent kiss.

And to complete a well-spent 75 minutes, Thalheimer has a smart and attention grabbing ending, every bit as impressive as his opening moments. Not a puff of gunpowder in site, but emotional fireworks all the same. But I won't spoil that surprise.

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