Georg Kaiser's 1912 play is reckoned to be a landmark of German Expressionism but in this rare revival, adapted by Dennis Kelly and directed by Melly Still, it comes over as a massive white elephant.
The play follows the fortunes of a bank clerk (Adam Godley) who, after misinterpreting an encounter with a glamorous foreign customer, goes AWOL from his robotic routine with a stolen fortune. He then embarks on an increasingly alienated quest (that takes in a sports stadium and a brothel before winding up at a Salvation Army meeting) to find an experience worth buying and “a reason for actually drawing breath”.
Still's bravura production presents his existential breakdown in a kaleidoscope of styles – a long-mimed introduction to the mechanistic rituals of the bank; grandiose fantasy alternatives to reality that are like a Teutonic version of Reggie Perrin; a snowy lightbulb moment in a wasteland of white sheets etc, etc.
It's impressive but overblown and only succeeds in drawing attention to the odyssey's wearying predictability and while Godley's performance rightly and admirably eschews pathos, the play leaves you feeling indifferent to the Clerk's fate. A strangely hollow experience.
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