Friday, 13 February 2009

Thomas Bernhard's Der Schein Trügt at the Burg

Yesterday evening to mark the 20th year of the passing of the playwright sometimes called the Austrian Beckett, Vienna's Burgtheater presented Thomas Bernhard's play Der Schein Trügt. In English it would be The Shine Deceives; meaning appearances can be deceptive.
Two elderly half-brothers Karl (Martin Schwab) and Robert (Michael König) meet each Tuesday and Thursday. They are obsessed with proving to each other and to themselves that they are still alive.
The only other player in this dark comedy is a blind-in-one-eye canary. Maggi belongs to Karl. Karl inherited Maggi from his life-companion Mathilde. Robert, who knew Mathilde before Karl knew her, and who once took her to Rome, inherhited her small house in the country. And so the spoils were unfairly divided. Mathilde's funeral service, we were informed, had required less than 12 minutes.

Martin Schwab, faultlessly convincing as a one-time artist and juggler, opens the first scene alone, except for the bird. He is to be seen crawling around on the floor of his bedroom dressed only in his long underwear. He is looking for something. It turns out that he is looking for his lost nail-clippers. Today he must look his best for it's Tuesday and brother Robert, the retired actor, is due to visit.
During this simple act of crawling around the room, peering under the bed and so on, there begins a unending Martin Schwab monologue; it must be more than an hour long. How Schwab recalls the text, never mind about the top quality acting, is nothing short of a wonder. The only listener is the canary. Schwab badgers the caged bird with a series of senseless questions and observations; the musings and rantings of a lonely old man: How do actors remember unending monlogues? and The glasses I once read Voltaire with I now need to see my toe nails.

Half-brother Robert arrives, late as always. The brothers have nothing to say to each other, for what they say to each other is what they said last week, what they will say next week and all the following weeks. Each brother is in reality speaking to himself, to his inner personality, chewing over the same old cud. It's rather like Beckett's classic Waiting for Godot in which nothing happens. Time goes by. We wait only to die. And death, as Bernhard points out, is the ultimate comedy. It's the last laugh.

Two days later Karl, dressed in his charcoal grey funeral suit, the suit which the tailor delivered 8 days too late for Mathilde's funeral, visits Robert. The basic scene repeats itself. Nothing is achieved. There is the usual airing of opinion. It ends as always in disharmony. But we know that Robert will be back at Karl's on Tuesday. Maybe the play is still going on, for it is a play almost without an end. Go back to the first scene and start again. We know it can only end when one of the characters dies or they become too frail to visit each other.

Like characters in a French novel we should raise our hats to Martin Schwab whenever we see him in a Thomas Bernhard play. The late Bernhard would be proud of Schwab's long years of dedication to the cause. Indeed, there was much warm and heartfelt applause and even an outburst of bravo-ing from the Burg audience; but on this special Thomas Bernhard 20th anniversary evening one has to ask: Where was the man's bouquet?


  1. Poet - I so envy you your proximity to the theatre and art galleries etc. Any cultural activity here means a long drive and a return at dead of night, so I have to get my "culture" second hand. Enjoyed the revue. Think bouquets are a bit out of fashion, sadly

  2. The bouquets may be out of fashion but for this 20th anniversary special I think they might have given Martin Schwab a small public thank you of some kind. His role was heroic.

  3. Thanks Gwilym for the suggestion that I look at Bard on the Run. As you say - a fantastic shot of Antarctica - wonderful - peaceful and unspoilt (so far) I would love to go, although perhaps it is one of those instances where it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive - it would have to be as a "tourist" and I really don't altogether approve of that.
    Read your piece on the 200th anniversary - very interesting in the light of my 100th anniversary piece - I suppose we put these dates on the world - in fact life goes on all the time and maybe there are trillion instances of people with a "message" being born at the same time - coincidence is a funny thing. I read today that Darwin's first love was beetles and that when he had one he had collected in each hand and found another one, he would put it in his mouth.
    Being a beetle-freak I consider that to be true devotion to one's subject. Thanks for the link I shall read Bard from now on.

  4. Weaver, I've read that strange story about Darwin's beetles too. I can believe it.
    There are some wonderful pictures coming through on those two Links. I've always been fascinated by the unknown and the exotic so I'll try and set up the miniature world gallery alongside them. That way we can look at everything in the universe from the biggest to the smallest.

  5. Weaver, I didn't like micro-world. Too much advertising. So didn't use. Put National Geographic there instead. Wonderful zebra pic on there at the moment. The best zebra pic I've ever seen!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.