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Beware of Pity by Complicite & Schaubühne Berlin at the Barbican

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 12th Feb 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Laurenz Laufenberg and Christoph Gawenda

Once more my pity had been stronger than my will.

The novel Beware of Pity (Ungeduld des Herzens) by Stefan Zweig was published in the eve of World War II and takes place in 1914, shortly before the beginning of World War I. Simon McBurney directs the Berliner Schaubühne ensemble in a compelling production that raises questions of consciousness and compassion as the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrates.

The performance begins at night in a museum. Two uniforms are on display: the first is covered with blood as it was worn by Archduke Franz Ferdinand when he was assassinated in Sarajevo in June 1914. The other uniform is squeaky clean, the uniform of an officer of the Hapsburg cavalry. This uniform belongs to Anton Hofmiller, a young career officer who slides into a terrible situation shortly before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of the Great War, an ill-fated love story with a rich and disabled young woman. As a now middle-aged Hofmiller remembers his younger self, the production takes us to a different time.

Young cavalry officer Anton Hofmiller (Laurenz Laufenberg) is stationed in a small garrison town near the Hungarian border. He is invited to a soirée held by Baron Kekesfalva (Robert Beyer) at his castle and enjoys the delicious food, select wines and the delightful company. Before leaving, Hofmiller feels obliged to ask Edith (Marie Burchard), the daughter of his host, for a dance. His request is met with shock and disbelief as Edith is disabled. Deeply embarrassed by his faux pas, Hofmiller flees from the castle. To atone for his behaviour, Hofmiller sends flowers to Edith and apologises, Edith responds with an invitation for tea. Soon Hofmiller is a daily visitor at the castle. He enjoys the rich food and the warm welcome by Edith's family but remains ignorant of the fact that Edith is falling in love with him. When Hofmiller realises the extent of the girl's feelings for him, he dutifully asks for her hand in marriage. But Edith soon realises that Hofmiller just feels pity for her.

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Ensemble

McBurney designs his production as an experiment - researching the timeless lack of compassion. The stage design by Anna Fleischle resembles a museum space with some of the actors sitting at desks, whilst others are placed in front of microphones or exhibits as they take us to the past so vividly described by Stefan Zweig. Hofmiller's story is told in German by seven actors, swapping narration and dialogue, who are not individually credited. Stylised movement by the ensemble reflects Edith's disability or suggests a cavalry drill, accompanied by Pete Malkin's thunderous sound design. Video projections of desolate battlefields and boats of refugess (design by Will Duke) place this story in a contemporary perspective.

Laurenz Laufenberg is excellent as the young Anton Hofmiller as he stumbles into an abyss, prompted by his older self and his comrades, torn between recklessness and a kind of foreboding. Marie Burchard plays Edith as a stubborn, unstable young woman who is helplessly moved around the stage on a mobile table. Robert Beyer convinces as Edith's father, acting like an aristocrat but despised as a Jewish upstart by the community and Hofmiller's comrades. Johannes Flaschberger is compassionate as Edith's doctor.

Stefan Zweig wrote that there were two kinds of pity: "One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart's impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another's unhappiness, that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one's own soul against the sufferings of another; and the other, the only one at counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond". We have to ask ourselves what kind of pity we are guilty of.

The production is part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.  

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 12th February 2017

Barbican Centre

Running time: 2 hours with no interval

Age guidance 12+

Performed in German with English surtitles

The show is now sold out but is available online:

Live stream online: 12 Feb 3pm GMT

Available online until 26 Feb 11.59 GMT

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98C1vV49gXo

Watch on these websites:

complicite.org/live-stream

Photocredit: Gianmarco Bresadola

www.schaubuehne.de/en/pages/live-stream-beware-of-pity.html

http://blog.barbican.org.uk/2017/01/livestream-complicite-schaubuhne-berlins-beware-of-pity/

 

Comments

1 Comment

  • Elaine Pinkus
    by Elaine Pinkus 1 year ago
    I always try to see Complicite as I am a McBurney fan. In particular I love the physical theatre of his productions. I found this interesting, quite different from his past projects but certainly one I would not have missed. Was I 'blown away' - well, no, but it did get me thinking.
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