Edinburgh Nights: Long-haul play loses something in translation

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The Lookalikes

King's Theatre

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 homegrown playwrights for their middlebrow ambitions.

Performed in its original German with English surtitles and weighing in at an epic three and a half hours, is demanding.

Strauss's first Edinburgh offering since 1996's Time and the Room appears to offer little respite, presuming in its audience a patience English theatre usually considers non-existent. Which is not to say that the courtesy of thinking highly of your audience does them any favours.

' 210 minutes are broken into six superficially unconnected mini-dramas. In one, the title piece, brothers, thrown together in a business venture by the reunification, plan to build a theme park of German myth and legend, wrangling all the while over a prostitute the pair regularly visit.

Beginning and End reveals a woman about to commit suicide on an Alpine peak who rails against a potential rescuer even as she coerces him into what she sees is the inevitable conclusion of their encounter, her rape.

Though the human drama of these tales is undeniable, Strauss appears to be aiming at a larger, mythical conflicts.

This immanence, despite the knowing guffaws of those audience members supposedly in the know, rings a little hollow.

It's one thing to bracket one's play with a contemporary vision of the Three Graces as bosom-buddy ladies-about-town, it's another for its conception of "lookalikes" to have any bearing on the work's success at anything other than an arid, conceptual level.

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". It might be chastening to learn that this is the translated dialogue in one of its more fluent moments, but Strauss often hits an emotional chord, albeit a complex one, when he reduces the scale of the drama.

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.