Edinburgh Festival '98: Theatre - An epic need for intimacy

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The Independent Culture
I EXPECT those who sit sternly in judgement of contemporary English theatre have the German writer - sorry, "dramaturge" - Botho Strauss, and director Peter Stein in mind when they pooh-pooh our homegrown playwrights for their middlebrow ambitions.

Performed in its original German with English subtitles and weighing in at an epic three-and-a-half hours, The Lookalikes on these terms alone is demanding. It is broken into six superficially unconnected mini-dramas. In the title piece, two brothers thrown together by reunification plan to build a theme park of German myth and legend, wrangling all the while over a prostitute the pair of them regularly visit. In "Beginning and End", a woman about to commit suicide on an Alpine peak rails against a potential rescuer even as she coerces him into what she sees is the inevitable conclusion of their encounter - her rape at his hands.

Though the human drama of these tales is undeniable, Strauss appears to be aiming at larger, mythical conflicts altogether less apparent. This immanence rings a little hollow.

Where Strauss does seem to hit his nebulous target - that contemporary society suffers from its increasing homogeneity - is in its more intimate moments. At one point a dysfunctional mother comments that "the centre of the world lies where error is at its most dense". In another, two parents exchange psychobabble with one another while their horrifically mutilated daughter threatens to take them to court for ever allowing her to be born. Or, in a scene which elicits the evening's first un- self-conscious laughter, a man and a woman debate a situation in which the man finds himself attracted and repelled by his lover in exactly equal proportions.

This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

Mike Higgins