Watching the unwatchable

Hannah Fair, Marsha Vinogradova and Ricky Power Sayeed 2 November 2007

Imagine what you don’t want to see happen to people, bodies, actors on stage. Imagine the sublime pleasure of watching the unwatchable; a voyeuristic orgy of pain, degradation and social deceit. And imagine it in the heart of the bourgeois home. That may not give much of an indication of what Mr Kolpert is about, yet Mr Kolpert is a difficult play to write about. If the plot is revealed then the instability you feel throughout as an audience member is sabotaged. If moments of the production are described, the sense of trepidation, shock and disgust will be lost. In fact now we’ve gone and mentioned shock, that’s what you’ll be expecting, which defeats the purpose. But the review must go on…

First performed at the Royal Court in 2000, German playwright David Gieselmann’s black comedy is a fantastic piece; imagine Tarantino meets Pinter, with a more sadomasochistic edge. And Jeff James’ production is shattering; an indefinable melange of mind tricks, predictable and unpredictable violence, philosophy, weakness and liberation. Beneath the civilised façade, man’s life is indeed revealed to be nasty, brutish and short. The action starts as a dinner party, goes violently beyond the realm of social faux pax, and ends on… Actually, it’s better if you find out for yourself. Each time it seems the play reaches a climax and the audience, its victims, are saturated with violence, shock and discomfort, it confidently strides several steps further for another “in your face” twist.

Unfortunately, the performance is not without fault. Some of the acting is noticeably superior – Molly Goyer-Gorman, as ‘Edith’ steals the show by the end, showing remarkable transformation whilst Heidi Homes’ ‘Sarah’ fails to procure much strong reaction. Patrick Kingsley as ‘Ralph’ seems uninteresting at first but his consistency and focus provides the backbone of the play. Some of the detail is messy, props are a bit muddled and the set is unstimulating, with a wonky oversized trunk as its central piece.

However such details are inconsequential, given the importance of Mr Kolpert as a theatrical experience. Its main merit is that this experience is so individual. When we discussed what we’d thought of the show, we had trouble consolidating three completely different impressions. There is no way to decide whether it’s realism or absurd, whether characters are evil, demented or simply confused. And the audience reacts strongly, but very differently – the row behind gasps to see violence against a woman, whilst the row in front chuckles; to the right someone cringes to see vomiting and to the left heads shake disappointedly because there’s not enough of it. Everyone has their own personal relationship with Mr Kolpert.

We’ve given the play five stars not because it is perfect, but because it is immensely important. As you watch Mr Kolpert you find out a lot about yourself, what you are comfortable with and what makes you cringe; you’ll be surprised at your level of voyeurism and at your own intolerance. Go see Mr Kolpert – it’s short, sharp and unmissable.

Hannah Fair, Marsha Vinogradova and Ricky Power Sayeed