BERLIN /RADIALSYSTEM “WASTED LAND” – Nico and the Navigators in a melodramatic musical-theatrical action. On the 100th anniversary of “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot

"Present and past are perhaps contained in the future, and in what has been the future. But if all time is always present, all time remains unredeemed." from T.S. Eliot "Four Quartets"

"April is he cruellist month" - With the cloud-breaking changes outside, who would not agree with this enigmatic opening sentence from T.S. Eliot's 433-line suada about a desolate land, this monological monster, this liturgical monody? The blind seer Tiresias gets lost in the 1920s. The prophet's journey through time from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' ends in a sober present. Over London, this "unreal city" and its bridges, processions of the dead totter. The war may be over, the Spanish flu has run its course, but an unprecedented drought is ravaging England and the deadly economic depression is forgotten in the metropolises for a few hours in nightly ecstasy.

People lack support, values and a fixed location, order and overview. Ideologies begin to take the place of humanity, the primal need for togetherness and real sense. Three literary monoliths descend into this rough (s)snowy 1922: T.S. Eliot with his "Waste Land" radically abridged by Ezra Pound, James Joyce's "Ulysses" and Rilke with his Sonnets to Orpheus.

Nicola Hümpel and her Navigators have freely adapted T.S. Eliot's lyrical Jubilee for an evening of theatre that grabs you right by the jugular. From the poem's five chapters "The Burial of the Dead", "A Game of Chess", "The Fire Sermon", "Death by Water" and "What the Thunder Spoke", her direction distils the fragmentary, the banal and the philosophical into haunting melodramatic scenes, pantomimic solos and focal point facial landscapes projected onto the screen. Pleasantly, the production refrains from any hammer-and-peen actualisations; its strength lies in its reliance on the poetic word. But: any attempt to counterpoint the linguistic power of Thomas Stearns Eliot's poetry with adequate music (concept Tobias Weber) must remain an attempt. Not even the short and skilfully arranged sound sequences from Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" and "Rheingold" can do anything about that.

At the centre of the evening is Ted Schmitz, a US singer and actor of the highest order, who has remained loyal to the theatre group founded in Dessau and performing regularly at the Radialsystem since 2006. This initial second T.S. of the evening speaks Eliot's poem in British English with such tonal beauty and archaic urgency that everything around him sinks in during his recitation on the dark empty stage. The audience's perception is focused on this tall light-haired slender artist who - when he sings - resembles a bard from the Elizabethan age. Here the music also gains concentration, reminiscent of Benjamin Britten in its chamber-music prosody.

Alongside this, the performances by Lujain Mustafa, a Syrian-born dancer, performer and choreographer, leave the strongest impression. In her expressive pantomimic songs without words, she tells of the naïve hyacinth girl who ends up in a brothel and has to have an abortion, of the loneliness of the creature, the sobriety of the encounter with the opposite sex: "Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over". The temporal planes seem to be dissolved, memories, fear and desire in the heads and minds of fragile and torn souls wander in a world that is just as fragile. The meaning of our actions is difficult to discern. Is effort enough, as Albert Camus will later so vividly describe in "The Myth of Sisyphus"?

We recognise in T.S. Eliot's finding "I will show you fear in a hand full of dust" a mirror of our time full of eloquently staged surreal orgies of images in social media style, full of natural catastrophes, rattling with the use of nuclear weapons of destruction and the many familiar feeling of nothingness with which nothingness is associated.

Only at the end does the author bless his own radical literary apocalyptic experiment, so much like a Hölderlin of early Romanticism to the 20th century, and probably his readership with the Hindu shanti, shanit, shanti, shanti. It is a (very) quiet wish for peace of mind and inner peace among the dry rocks of existence and a humanity metaphorically thirsting for rain.

The audience also included Patrick Schott as chronicler and the musicians Daniel Seminara (guitar), Paul Hübner (trumpet), Philipp Kullen (drums, sythesizer), and Wolke Misewitch (violin, vocals) in the extremely rapturous applause during the thoughtful one and three-quarter hours, which were carried by fine poetry.

Note: On 16 December 2023, the 25th anniversary of the Berlin company will be celebrated with a chamber version of the production "Lost in Loops".

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