Eraritjaritjaka/Heiner Goebbels Berlin Festspielhaus
The title of Heiner Goebbels' new piece of music-theatre is apparently Aboriginal for "longing", but you certainly do not hear it uttered in this ingenious hour-and-a-half, much as you might like to.
Its French subtitle, "Musée des phrases", is more apposite. Goebbels, who has never pretended to make things easy for his audiences, has based his show on texts by the 1981 Nobel Prizewinner Elias Canetti. The evening's first irony, which Goebbels must enjoy, is that the Bulgarian-born Canetti wrote in German; and here was a "museum of sentences" delivered in the German capital in French.
Mind you, it is wonderful French, wonderfully delivered by Alsatian actor André Wilms as Canetti. Dramatically, this is a one-man show. Musically, the motor is the Mondriaan Quartet, who open with Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet and throughout play - amid electronic interpolations composed by the director - a mishmash of extracts from Bach to Bryars.
This is trademark Goebbels: mixing music and text, casting his stage and figures in riveting games of light, weaving uncategorisable stage magic.
Wilms performs a kind of ballet with the music, commenting on it, keeping it at bay, engaging with it: "In music, instead of walking, as they normally do, words swim." The musicians move from one side of the stage to the other, from front to back. Though little happens, there is no stillness.
Wilms is caught in an oblong of light and seems able to rotate it. The dark stage floor opens to reveal a white square; a black backdrop is pulled up similarly to reveal the façade of a house with four windows. Wilms exits pursued by cameraman. He takes a taxi to a Berlin flat and his image is projected on to the façade. He continues to soliloquise: "A society where people cry only once in their life".
The rest of the show is a real-time film "somewhere else", with the quartet continuing to play live; so how is Wilms able to chop an onion, in perfect sync, with the pizzicato of Ravel's String Quartet? That would give the game away. Suffice it to say that while one wonders what a lot of Goebbels' magic is for, his tricks are breathtaking. The production is moving to Paris, to wind up the Festival d'Automne (tel +33 1 5345 1717) from December 7-19.
Financial Times (GB), 30 November 2004