8 Dec 2013

Das sind nicht wir, das ist nur Glas (Zimmertheater Tübingen)

In between all the other things that are currently going on in my life, I managed to catch another one of the Zimmertheater's monologues, Das sind nicht wir, das ist nur Glas (roughly "This isn't us, it's only glass"), by Croation playwright Ivana Sajko. Since it's the tiniest of our professional theatres in town with an ensemble of five actors only, they regularly do a lot of one-man-plays and, thankfully one-woman-plays too, to offer more than ten plays in rep per season - extended runs not included.

Das sind nicht wir is a dystopian vision of a society after an economical breakdown of the worst kind. It's basically the Apocalypse and Black Friday rolled into one: first all wheat crops fail and then the rest of the global economy starts to disintegrate to disastrous effects. Unemployment soars, mortgages are left unpaid, the children go hungry and their parents despair.

Sajko sums up the reactions to this economic and social meltdown in a generational conflict that also comments on what a consumerist society hands on to the next generation. It follows the question of what actually happens when the only basis of such a society breaks away. What is left when we don't have the possibility to go shopping anymore? Together with their job, their bank accounts and eventually their homes the adults lose all their self-esteem and simply retreat into their self-loathing, leaving their hungry offspring largely to themselves. And the kids? They yearn for everything their parents can't buy them, for shoes big enough for their growing feet, for food to fill their stomachs, but also for sports clothes, mobile phones, cars. There's a deeper yearning for respect too, for exactly the self-esteem their parents let go, for a future that is simply a bit less shite than the past. Sajko's monologue is full of references to looking glasses, reflections in shop windows, photographs. However, it is less the glitzy images of the fashion world than the glamour of crime as embodied in Bonnie and Clyde's series of 1930s robberies. Sajko presents shoplifting as the only kind of uprising the younger generation is capable of, the smashing of windows is only a means to steal the designer goods behind them, not an emblem of the will to change something. This world is quite generally one that has completely forgotten about any kind of 'us' - it's split into the tiniest of social units and peopled by individuals who are no longer capable of connecting with other human beings apart from superficial admiration and meaningless sex.

Consisting mainly of dust and light - a favourite element of the Zimmertheater's set repertoire - the design of the play is as dreary as the world that is created in the monologue, which is superbly delivered by Nicole Schneider. Since monologues naturally stand and fall with the actor, the Zimmertheater can be glad that they've got exactly the right person to pull this off (as she did brilliantly as last year's Richard II in their version of Shakespeare's history for five people and too heavy scenery). The play itself is, however, slightly inconsistent in its imagery. At the beginning, it places quite a lot of emphasis on religious imagery, but veers away from this completely from about the middle onwards and leaves a loose end in this respect. With 65 minutes run time, the trick of discussing the end of society in the guise of a generational conflict starts to run out of steam with one generation not 'doing' much apart from lamenting and chain smoking. I had the feeling that it would have been possible to achieve more with less by trimming the script, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

On a rather personal note, I found this a play which I wouldn't have been able to bear a mere three weeks ago: the descend of people who become unemployed is one that just went too close to the bone for me. I've been unemployed since the beginning of October (no sympathy, please, I quit out of free will and already have another job lined up, so I'm great again, thanks) and for some 7 weeks I had no idea what to do with myself and where I wanted to go (and whether I would get any chance to decide at all). Plus I had the immense pleasure of communicating with the job centre and had to realise that this truly is an institution that seems to have as their goal the demoralising of already demoralised people. From one moment to the other, all skills and qualifications, all prospects and projects become totally meaningless because you committed the crime of becoming unemployed - of becoming one blip in the statistic that is taken for political success like almost no other in this country. From tax payer to nothing at the stroke of midnight. You see this play - and a lot of other things too - in a different light after this experience. I've not taken up chain smoking though.

Production details:
Das sind nicht wir, das ist nur Glas by Ivana Sajko, Zimmertheater Tübingen, Spielzeit 2013/2014 Director and design: Michael Hanisch
Nicole Schneider

Link to the Zimmertheater's website, including a video trailer: Das sind nicht wir, das ist nur Glas
Next performance: Jan 31, 2014
All photographs: (c) Alexander Gonschior