Edinburgh festival: I Went to the House But Did Not Enter
Heiner Goebbels' new theatre piece, the fifth of his stage shows to have been seen in Edinburgh since 1997 but the first to be premiered there, seems more direct, and more introspective, than any that have come before. Those expecting the visual sleight of hand and beguiling beauty of works such as Hashirigaki and Eraritjaritjaka will be disappointed. But what they will get, in this piece conceived for the four singers of the Hilliard Ensemble, is a surprisingly personal exploration of the disappointments of middle age and fear of mortality that has its own quietly poetic, almost valedictory effect.
Goebbels calls it a "staged concert in three tableaux", with each scene built around a different text in English. The first takes TS Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock as its starting point, and the last sets Beckett's late prose piece, Worstward Ho. The central panel brings together a mostly spoken passage by Maurice Blanchot with Franz Kafka's Der Ausflug ins Gebirge, which provides an almost jaunty sung coda to Blanchot's contemplation of futility and failure. For each panel, Goebbels and his designer, Klaus Grünberg, create a picture of lingering intensity and perfectly observed detail. The Hilliards become monochrome undertakers for Eliot's poem, stripping a dining room of its fixtures and fittings, and then just as methodically refurnishing it as a photo negative, with everything black becoming white and vice versa. For the Blanchot and Kafka there is a facade of a suburban house at night, with the singers seen at different windows, or working in their garage, in a nocturne of quiet desperation. The last tableau brings the four together in a hotel room, watching a slide show of images of someone's (perhaps Goebbels' own?) childhood.
It seems slender, but over the course of 90 minutes an immensely powerful atmosphere is created - of nostalgia mingled with regret, of opportunities missed, challenges ducked. Goebbels' music is spare, too, used only when absolutely essential, whether to heighten the mood of Eliot's great poem - a beautiful, a cappella setting, with every verbal stress and nuance perfectly caught - or to deliver Beckett's words like a metrical psalm, the voices in rhythmic unison throughout. The Hilliards bring it off immaculately; as with the whole show, there's not a detail misplaced.
The Guardian (GB), 30 August 2008