Hamburg: “Death in Venice” at the Thalia Theater – culture

When does the mask ever win a battle in the theater? This department, never mentioned in reviews, whose work, if noticed, is at most credited to the costume designers. And who also suffers from the handicap that close-ups are so rare, even in stage plays with video use, that the sophistication of the transformation that their employees are capable of is very rarely really able to be appreciated as a viewer. But now the hour of the mask had come. Julia Wilms, Jutta Böge and Esther Chahbaznia, head artists from Thalia, accomplished the metamorphosis of four women into Thomas Mann and 13 other bearded men for Bastian Kraft’s production of “Death in Venice” with a perfection that borders on special effects.

Even when Oda Thormeyer, Victoria Trauttmansdorff, Karin Neuhäuser and Sandra Flubacher in gray three-piece suits with and without pinstripes, with and without gold watch chains on the waistcoat, but otherwise identically male-faced, stroll onto the Thalias stage in Gaußstraße, to look around than four nuances of the Lübeck Nobel Prize winner to think about the beginning of the novella, four wow waves go through the audience. And when, in the course of the 80-minute retelling of the pedophile love drama on the Lido, various secondary characters also appear on the screen in the background, which stage designer Peter Baur uses as the only spatial element of this production, the astonishment becomes complete. Even actresses who have been in this ensemble for almost thirty years are not recognizable at first glance as boat captains, gondoliers or porters, although they really do appear in close-up.

The main character here is not Aschenbach, but Thomas Mann himself

The hyper-realism of these facial treatments, which extends to rotten teeth, age spots and the typical powder pits of bashfully plastered wrinkles, has a large part in the cinematic narrative style of this production, which uses its own typical theatrical approach, but in this context it still comes across as cinematic wants – if not exactly like Luchino Visconti did in his famous 1971 adaptation. Because the main character of Bastian Kraft’s Venice trip is not the writer Gustav von Aschenbach, who died of boy love, Scirocco and cholera, but Thomas Mann himself. After all, there is little doubt in literary studies that the author and protagonist in this text in their desires and Fears are strongly fused.

Vain and ironic, the four Thomasses begin the evening in a one-to-one conversation about the beginning of the story, design the character together with suggestions for improvement and a lot of self-praise and the maturation of their decision to just go on a trip. Playing off the common ideas about an upper-class artistic genius of the turn of the century before last in four character variations from doubtful to arrogant, the poets are transformed more and more into novel characters in a very amusing way. At the latest from the moment when Victoria Trauttmansdorff exchanges the formal suit for a sailor suit (costumes: Jelena Miletić) and embodies the object of desire as the divine boy Tadzio, Thomas is completely absorbed by Gustav – until death by plague.

Good acting overwhelms the imagination just like a movie does

The perfect cut between stage and film scenes, which consist partly of shadow plays using writing and letters, partly of the lip-synched fade-ins of the perfectly historically masked quartet in all supporting roles, underlines the cinematic claim of this production. The entertaining flow of this performance is not interrupted even when the character is briefly stepped out of character to question certain sentences in the book as to their possibly racist content or to raise the issue of an artfully cloaked glorification of pedophilia.

Combining irony and illusion without a single real prop on stage is finally perfected by the slow infiltration of water. As a liquid metaphor for the encroachment of the truth about the deadly infectious disease, as a symbol of the putrid manure in Venice’s canals, which Indian cholera is spreading unstoppably everywhere, but also as a moving reflection surface for beautiful lighting effects, the wet sea of ​​​​stage reinforces the intention of this production, without moments to inspire the effort. The audience thanked them with trampling and rhythmic clapping. At that point at the latest you woke up from the illusion of having been to the cinema. Acting, too, can overwhelm the imagination to the point of wanting to believe all deceptions. Thanks to the mask.

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