So Lonely

Back to Gaußstraße, and to the same odd little arts-industrial estate as Thalia Gaußstraße, for a performance by the young people’s theatre of Deutsches Schauspielhaus, which is currently awaiting a new, purpose-built stage across the road (you mean, this isn’t it? This one is pretty impressive…) .

So Lonely is an adaptation for stage of Per Nilsson’s 2007 Swedish novel for teenagers, which itself is apparently a version, or a modern retelling, of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s proto-gothic, Sturm und Drang blockbuster The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Being a responsible, Swedish, modern novel for teenagers, it doesn’t climax in the suicide of its unnamed protagonist (Goethe’s original apparently engendered a spate of copycat suicides), but instead everyone grows up a bit and gets over themselves. In a way, that feels like a cop-out: why adapt the most famous romantic suicide novel in literary history and change the ending? And yet, somehow, in this staging the final moments – with the removals boxes that form the entire set all cleared away, and a stark, lonely, dead, potted “lemon tree” left sitting, silhouetted, in the middle of the floor – still manage to feel chokingly sad. As if to emphasise that growing up, even without suicide, the first time you fall unrequitedly in love is going to be pretty painful.

The production is, strangely, more or less exactly the same production you might expect to see if it were performed in Britain. The two actors – Angelina Häntsch and Florens Schmidt – are engaging and charming. The set (by Sibylle Meier) is simple and effective, practical and unfussy. Indeed, these days you might see a more ‘German’ production of the show at the Unicorn.

If there’s a problem with the piece, then it lies in the way that this adaptation transfers the more-or-less single protagonist perspective into the narration of the story on stage. That is to say, a novel looking out from a sole character’s eyes possibly feels reasonable enough, even if that one character is a man falling devotedly in love with a woman. On stage however, it has the effect of making Ann-Katrin seem worryingly voiceless, without agency or power. A young man falling in love with a woman initially because of the way she looks isn’t super, but, granted, there’s enough subsequent tenderness between the two as they get to know each other through dialogue to allay this thought. Nonetheless, viewed entirely through a male prism, you do start to wonder about what this might teach young women to think about themselves. They are pedestal-bound, voiceless objects of desire with no inner lives of their own to explain to the audience. When one considers that suicide is ultimately an act of introverted violence (ok, here commuted into “a bit of a sulk”), we could conclude that this is ultimately about a form of male violence against women, every bit as much as Othello’s murderous rage.

However, perhaps I’m over-worrying. The (majority female) audience seemed largely charmed and smiling, rather than concerned that they’d been dramatically subjugated, and overall the piece clearly intends to be benign. However, I do wonder if there’s a further bit of adaptation possible that would let Ann-Katrin speak her own mind as well.

So Lonely is playing at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Junges Theater until 4 April. For more information and tickets, see the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Junges Theater website.