Writer: David Gieselmann trans, David Tushingham
Director: Rachel Valentine Smith
Reviewer: Steve Barfield
If you had the mistaken impression that contemporary German drama is all grave, angst-ridden work that directly addresses major philosophical and political questions in a stylised manner: then Mr. Kolpert is a wonderful correction to such a view. It is a zippy, roller-coaster of a deeply unsettling, absurdist black comedy that delivers large laughs and numerous plot twists, alongside some moments of genuine unpleasantness and shock. It is as if Ionesco had conspired with Joe Orton on a script, that was lost for many years, but which was then revised and updated after being rediscovered by Quentin Tarantino. Audience members were recoiling in horror, almost as much as they laughed out loud, in this fine, vigorous revival of the play.
A bored young couple, office worker Sarah Kenner (Kate Sawyer) and chaos researcher Ralf Droht (Edward Fulton), invite another couple for a dinner party. Edith Mole (Laura Freeman) works with Sarah and her architect husband Bastian Mole (Damian Lynch) are the two guest. It turns out that being unable to cook they have ordered take-away pizza. Kenner and Droht in what seems a curious kind of ice-breaker to liven things up, claim they have murdered the dull Mr Kolpert from accounts, who works with Sarah and Edith and put his body in a voluminous trunk lying centre stage. The two claim they did it for kicks as they were bored. Did they really murder the innocuous Mr Kolpert, or are they just carrying out a grim wind-up of their guests, especially Bastian, who grows increasingly to believe they really are the callous and heartless murderers they claim to be, despite their urbane and witty chat? It’s this uncertainty about Mr Kolpert which powers not only the black humour, but much of the tension of the play. Though there will turn out to be numerous plot twists and turns even after we discover what really did happen to Mr Kolpert. While I won’t give the game away, you should certainly expect surprises.
This revival by the theatre collective The Curious Room is very well directed by Rachel Valentine Smith who maintains the play’s headlong momentum and produces some brilliantly fluid action, which is by no means easy to do on a small stage such as the King’s Head. for a play where so much happens. The surprising final moment of the play which comes out of nowhere (though by then the audience feel they have seen everything), is a stark moment of unsettling theatrical imagery as the three remaining dinner party guests strip naked and it shows how fluent and confident this production is. There is nothing to complain about the acting either and not only does each member of the cast create an individual character, they also give due attention to the conversational, matter of fact language of the play. Damian Lynch’s obsessive Bastian Mole has his anger dial set to extreme and starts off as the least attractive character, who nonetheless strives to hold the moral focus and suspects Mr Kolpert really has been killed. Kate Sawyer’s slightly more middle aged Sarah Kenner seems almost as charming and ordinary as her boyfriend Edward Fulton’s dreamy looking chaos researcher Ralf Droht, but by the end they have become so alarming and sinister because of that very ordinariness and the way they exist so comfortably in their well-mannered bourgeois household. Laura Freedman’s Edith Mole is perhaps the most worrying of them all, as she goes from slightly annoying neurotic, claiming perhaps untruthfully to have been having an affair with Kolpert, to wannabe psychopath as the play descends to its final dénouement.
While the plays draws on absurdism as it shows a bourgeois world disintegrating inexplicably into disorder, like Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, it also suggests that beneath the surface there is something very wrong with a capitalist, consumerist society where people have become so desperately dissatisfied with their ennui that they will do anything to feel real, amid the simulacra of their lives.