Volksbühne Berlin am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

Glanz und Elend der Kurtisanen

by René Pollesch adapted from Honoré de Balzac

Some writers will stage being a writer using a coffee mug, a typewriter and a cigarette. I know a few of them and I believe it’s a good thing, since the writer cannot be found within you. Those who believe in it are a nuisance merely by insisting on the idea of a true self, not because they smoke or drink coffee. These are different types of nuisances and they should be distinguished. No, one could say those using the coffee mugs and cigarettes and typewriters, they perform being a writer. And that at least could be taken as an expressive intention. I would even say they are the ones who take their job seriously. As opposed to those writers who do not seriously get their job done: Expressionless in their self-absorption, they exude earnestness, which merely indicates an absence of appropriate means to access the world. Wasn’t there a self once serving as tool to access the world? What has happened to it? Since writers are mostly self-absorbed, it is difficult for them to give a clear picture of what defines them as a person, which is why playing the game with cigarettes and typewriters is a good thing. At least these guys make no pretence. It is only the ones absorbed in their inner selves who do the pretending. Then you get self-obsessed people acting to be writers, though without the appropriate means. Yet writing cannot be pretended.

You know, as I was waiting once to attend a theatre play I watched a famous actress, Fiona Shaw, get out of a taxi by the stage door just moments before the show was due to start. She was very late to arrive but in no hurry at all. Getting out of the taxi she carried at least ten shopping bags with Chanel and Vuitton labels – very elegantly, it was an extremely glamorous appearance. I myself felt there was barely time to finish the cigarette I was smoking. I continued to smoke rather frantically, knowing what I owed to the street. Just like her. I was wondering, though, if it were even worth seeing the play. Would she be in such a generous performing mood during the show, too? After all, it’s not always possible. When are you capable of generously giving, anyway? Surely not at eight o’clock sharp when the curtain rises. I went in anyway, and there they all were eagerly waiting for her appearance. Then the curtain opened in exaggerated pendulum movements, probably contrived by this totally overrated guy, Stephen Daldry, although the show wasn’t produced by him. And there she was: Fiona Shaw standing naked with hanging shoulders and wet hair, letting out an ear-piercing scream. I was most impressed, of course, by the swiftness of her metamorphosis. The metamorphosis she had gone through exchanging one stage with the next. I dreaded to think of her transformative powers, how little time it would take her to fall out of bed and get on the stage. In bed she probably was as naked as onstage. And I couldn’t be bothered by the difference it made. Because wearing the same outfit at home or on stage are, obviously, two completely different things. And what seemed to be so entirely different – her getting out of a taxi in the street and her standing naked on stage later on – was, of course, exactly the same. Out in the street, everyone had secretly bowed and paid homage to her performance. Needless to say, there didn’t form a group of onlookers, but the people around were fascinated by the grandeur of her presentation at the stage door. Just how full of respect for the passers-by it was! If she had stepped out of the taxi in a jute bag and slipped over a piece of naked skin in the dressing room, the spectators who missed the spectacle of her getting out of the taxi, would have been just as impressed by her performing an ancient woman naked. And rightly so - why not? She obviously has all the appropriate means and sophistication. No one expects her to just be herself in the theatre. Yet in the street, people unfortunately do. When actors take their final bow in tears because they imagine themselves to be still in character, then all I can say is: no, even in their role they have always been themselves. It is a huge misunderstanding that the question comes up again and again: ‘How did the stage role impact you’, rather than asking how they impacted on the role. A fine staging act in the street is not comparable to those self-absorbed actors, whose selves no longer serve as a means of getting to know a role, but merely cause them to immerse themselves more in their selves. Yet people keep asking them: ‘What did the role do with you?’ Why aren’t they asking what they do with the role? (René Pollesch)

Duration: 1h 30min


With: Franz Beil, Christine Groß, Birgit Minichmayr, Trystan Pütter and Martin Wuttke

Director: René Pollesch
Stage Designer: Bert Neumann
Costumes: Tabea Braun
Light Design: Lothar Baumgarte
Dramaturgy: Anna Heesen

Trompe l'amour (nach Balzac. Regie: Martin Wuttke)
La Cousine Bette (nach Honoré de Balzac. Regie: Frank Castorf)

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Inspiration by

Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street
Morrissey - First of the Gang to Die
AC/DC - Thunderstruck
Michel Fugain & Le Big Bazar - Nous sommes
Jerry Goldsmith - The Calling/The Neighborhood
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Richard Hein - Melancholia: Proloque (from "Tristan und Isolde Prelude")
Don Davis - Main Title / Trinity Infinity of Matrix OST
Gérard Manset - Revivre