Ich schau dir in die Augen, gesellschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang!

13, 14, 15/05 – 20:00
DE > FR / NL
1h 30 min

Theatre in Berlin would not be what it is without René Pollesch. Since 2001, this writer and director has been one of the artistic directors at the Volksbühne where his creations systematically receive acclaim. With flamboyant commitment, his impressive company of actors transmute radical works on our life at a time of neoliberalism into grandiose theatrical performances. Ich schau dir in die Augen ..., acclaimed in Berlin as one of the best productions in recent years, marks a turning point in Pollesch’s productive career. Written for the actor Fabian Hinrichs, the work exposes the intimate side of the relationship between the writer and his muse. However, a critical challenging of theatre’s authenticity is never far away. In his monologue, the actor parodies interactive theatre. He analyses our need for society and exposes the impossible relationship we have with our body and its mortality. In a veritable tour de force, Hinrichs employs practically all styles of acting imaginable. In turn, he adopts post-modern distancing, proving himself to be a cheeky stand-up comedian and exposing his fragility. Respect!

Text & direction
René Pollesch

Fabian Hinrichs

Stage & costumes
Bert Neumann

Karin Hornemann

Manon Duursma-Ford

Frank Novak

Aenne Quinones

Christopher von Nathusius, William Minke

Stage manager
Alexandra Bentele

Katharina Popov

Technical production management
Simon Behringer

Frank Meißner, Marco Vallentin, Udo Hanke, Georg Heinrich

Assistant direction
Marion Levy

Assistant scenography
Edwin Bustamante

Assistant costumes
Teresa Tober

Kasper Scholten, Katharina Sendfeld

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS

Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (Berlin)

Supported by
Goethe-Institut Brüssel

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Universal Man

Actor Fabian Hinrichs sets the stage alight at Berlin’s Volksbühne in René Pollesch’s monologue Ich schau dir in die Augen, gesellschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang!
by Tom Mustroph

Fabian Hinrichs is something of an all-rounder. At least he is well on the way to embodying the kind of Renaissance man who nowadays seems pretty overwhelming: the kind who searched and researched, sang, danced and complained and explored the wider context in the tiniest detail.

This is precisely what he is doing at the moment, performing in Ich schau dir in die Augen, gesellschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang! [I’m looking into your eyes, social context of blindness] and taking the Volksbühne – the company he left five years ago – by storm. Other than the tight production team around director and writer René Pollesch, stage designer Bert Neumann or dramaturge Aenne Quinones, it is unlikely that anyone would have believed that this slim, lanky figure in jeans and a checked shirt getting up from the audience at the start of the play and tramping on stage could single-handedly carry an entire performance in this huge auditorium. Yet it is a feat Hinrichs pulls off because in the meantime he has become more than an actor: he is a thinker struggling to find words and insight who does not spare his body and naturally falls back on his acting craft. Hinrichs’ splendid monologue, face to face with the category Pollesch likes to use of the social context of blindness, has garnered rave reviews in the papers, being described as “an incredibly important night at the theatre” and “a unique event”. It is “eminently political”, performed by a “mad priest” and offers a glimpse into a “metaphysical abyss”.

And when it comes to Hinrichs’ acting, these superlatives really are fitting because the intensity with which this at times clumsy-looking person throws his body into examining truthfulness and presentability is extraordinary. Hinrichs is never still. He rushes back and forth between drums, crates of little Reclam books and the place where he has put down his guitar. If you start off thinking that all this activity is being generated by his fear at the size of the task in hand, then you are soon charmed by the ease with which this man sizes up, seizes and assimilates the stage space. The stage becomes a soundbox for this whirling dervish. He is so well acquainted with it that he even uses it vertically. Hinrichs hangs on to a huge light ball and heads up to the cyclorama, observing the audience he came from at the start of the performance. He is a master of ceremonies who makes the most of the height but does not hide the fact that he came from their level. The way he handles the script René Pollesch has written for him becomes more sincere by the emphasis of a shared destiny.

The message consistently coming through in everything Hinrichs does in the show is that he is on a voyage of discovery that is changing him too. “I don’t know beforehand how the performance is going to go. Naturally I know what I’ll be doing and I’m always on the alert. If it weren’t so trite, you could say I’m there with a hot heart and a cool head. But what happens on stage when I’m communicating with the audience gives me a huge rush. It’s like a spiritual event that I don’t have when I’m on my own in my flat,” says Hinrichs. He seeks out this rush and is always on the look out for something new, just as he is embarking on new adventures in his own life.

This willingness to ignore boundaries is initially demonstrated in tiny details such as the venue for our conversation. Rather than a trendy café in the centre of Berlin or in Prenzlauer Berg, he opts for an establishment on Kurfürstendamm frequented by the elderly and tourists, with red plush and fake gold and even keeping the old German spelling of “Kaffee” in its name. “I like it because the people here are different and talk about other things. I need to change my environment,” he explains, adding that time and again he seeks out hotel lobbies or an Asian snack bar on Potsdamer Platz frequented only by groups of Asian tourists.

At the moment, though, his favourite place to visit as an outsider is the Otto Suhr Institute, part of Free University of Berlin, in the middle-class district of Dahlem where the successful stage and screen actor – his roles include Hans Scholl in the Oscar-nominated film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – has enrolled to study politics. “I’m doing this for myself. Most of the others are doing it for their careers or to get a qualification, not because they’re interested in it, whereas I don’t primarily have to work towards getting a degree. It’s great.” He takes huge pleasure in breaking free from the modern specialisation certificates we are all required to have and is currently immersing himself in the works of ancient and modern philosophers alike with greater enthusiasm than a fifteen-year old new boy. He is encountering the ideas of the complete and full person, working them time and again into conversation. Sometimes they appear as a direct quotation, then he goes back to referring to Brecht and Hemingway who felt obliged to experience what life had to offer through activities like boxing, cycling, reading and sex. With a blend of collecting Matchbox cars, playing football, romping around and writing stories, even his own childhood corresponds to this all-encompassing panorama. “The impoverishment only came later,” he states. He is fighting it by looking up resistance in Foucault.

On set Hinrichs reads sitting down. If he’s on his own, though, he reads while walking and walks while reading. This intellectual study of motor activity spills over into the work he has undertaken in the last few years with the director Laurent Chétouane. Expertly led by the French engineer, he strolled his way through the entire Hamlet in Cologne, all the voices, all the roles in monologue form, incorporating the play in the process.

Now with Pollesch he is revealing the undisguised present. He talks of Bretton Woods in 1971 and how the financial market’s tie with gold was broken, which is seen by many today as setting the course for the recent volatility. Later he sticks to Pollesch’s words testifying to Robert Pfaller’s theory of interpassivity. They seem like a skin he has grown into. Now and then he sinks into a style of declamation that emits thoughts in melodic waves. Then he pulls them towards him, with them now appearing to be something strange, an animal he has to wrestle with. Sometimes, they hide deep within him. When he ponders the fact that body and soul are merely conducting an extramarital affair with one another, he seems to peel off his own skin and want to penetrate his flesh. In other places, when Hinrichs adopts Pollesch’s thoughts on the retreat of the political “from you too”, he conveys this in a table tennis game with the sound engineer. While playing he still wants the words to be captured by the boom. But now Hinrichs is quiet. And playing. All you can hear is the tap, tap, tap of the ball on the table. It is entirely up to the observer to locate the last remains of the political in the white ball being pushed from left to right, on the table or in the air, over the bodies of the players with the boom moving around in search of sound waves.

“When I went out jogging and had learnt the script on the political that has retreated ‘from you too’, I saw people playing table tennis. It seemed so unpolitical to me. I asked them to give me a table tennis table. And that’s how this image came about,” says Hinrichs. He sets store on ascertaining and stressing that the pieces emerge together. “René comes up with the script. I give my body. That’s the arrangement. He doesn’t direct. But I’m naturally influenced in what I do by his presence, so then he directs. But the most important thing is that a third element comes from his work and from my work. And that’s tremendous.”

Hinrichs wants to have nothing to do with directors who give orders. “I don’t order anyone around. I’m autonomous. And the others are autonomous.”

This is how a crucial moment in the production came about, a song with the refrain “Now perhaps at last we’re free of the things we love.” Pollesch came up with the words, Hinrichs the melody, and it sounds like a cover version of a Blumfeld song. Hinrichs repeats this line until it worms its way into your brain and you actually consider whether you can be liberated by becoming free of what you are bound to by love. And you’re amazed that freedom can only exist when love goes away.

Fabian Hinrichs himself would like to be free of a longing to go somewhere else and do something else. He wants to be in the present more. That is surprising coming from an actor who turns the stage into an arena of the here and now as soon as he steps onto it. Hinrichs will be working with René Pollesch again in the near future – this work marks a significant change for him. He would also like to continue working with Laurent Chétouane as well as with fellow Hamburg stage punk Schorsch Kamerun. Fabian Hinrichs has no need of an old school director, but he considers someone who looks from the outside and combines friendship and intuitive understanding as an asset in his life.

In future Hinrichs will be continuing his journeys of discovery in a format he has come up with himself. In Berlin’s Sophiensaele he will be imitating recorded lectures “featuring every cough, every slip of the tongue, every sip from a teacup”. Hinrichs won’t give away the title, content or name of the original speaker. Listeners should not focus on the brand names, but investigate the words as if they were being said for the first time.

He can also imagine making a new beginning at the Volksbühne. “It depends on the stipulations,” he says. The agonising way in which he adds: “I’d want to be there if something new were happening” enables you to gauge the pain he still feels from the break up of the group. He is currently studying Machiavelli’s thesis on the cycles of the state with its rise, flourishing and decline. Why shouldn’t this mechanism apply to theatre too? And perhaps as he reads the old theoretician’s work on power, the politics student will establish which buttons you have to push to change the decline into an upturn. In what up to now has been a rather dull Volksbühne season, Fabian Hinrichs and René Pollesch’s production represents a wonderful bright spot.

First published in: Theater der Zeit (°3, March 2010)
Translation: Claire Tarring

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René Pollesch (°1962) is a German dramaturge and theatre director. He studied drama in Giessen and has notably collaborated on works by Heiner Müller, George Tabori and John Jesurun. Following several productions of his own works and of other plays at the Probebühne in Giessen, Pollesch began working with his own company in Frankenthal and created his first work, commissioned by Theater am Turm in Frankfurt. Since 2001-2002 Pollesch has been artistic director of the Prater, the small venue of the Volksbühne in Berlin. Together with scenographer Bert Neumann, he has notably created Stadt als Beute (2001), Insourcung des Zuhause-Menschen in Scheiss-Hotels (2002), Sex (2002) as well as 24 Stunden sind kein Tag, Escape from New-York and Freedom and beauty and love (2003-2004).

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