Sie Weiss Alles is rivetingRobyn Sassen
My View by Robyn Sassen: Set in Berlin 1945, Sie Weiss Alles is an edge-of-the-seat thriller mixing Hamlet with 1940s big band music. It’s completely riveting.
The auditorium might have been nearly empty on opening night, but fuelled by the Andrew Sisters song, “Rum and Coca Cola” as an entrance point, the depth of focus, acute characterisation and brisk clean performances of James Cairns and Taryn Bennett to say nothing of the impeccable writing in this work, forced everything else in the immediate vicinity to momentarily lose grasp and relevance for its 75 minute duration.
This war drama, swirled into the narrative and conceptual landscape of the complex Act 3 scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which the eponymous young prince tells his girlfriend Ophelia to join a brothel, a scene which leads to her suicide, holds a mirror up between contemporary times and Hamlet’s era. It does much more than tell a tale of espionage and interrogation in the face of the Russian invasion of Berlin in 1945. It speaks of the messy ambiguity which makes men become soldiers and of a similar muddiness which makes some soldiers tarnished as bad men through history, and others as heroes.
Cairns plays a young man who inherits the privilege of becoming one of the elite: an SS man. Before the war, he’d been an arts critic. A theatre writer. Now he’s a brutal bully, labelled historically by that of his battalion. He’s in a basement to interrogate a young German woman, the daughter of a man affiliated with the Nazis’ SS, as well. In her no-nonsense serge skirt and brown tights, with her face severe and scrubbed, it’s hard to believe this woman was once an acclaimed stage actress with the folly of human discourse at her tongue.
But as the play unfolds and the relationship between the two grows nuance, you see deeper than the uniforms and understand more about human nature. Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet is the delicious catalyst to this thwarted tale of love, tainted as it is by the clatter of overhead bombs and the ever-present threat of death, rape and death by rape.
Think of Klaus Mann’s Mephisto meeting Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden and you’re left with the kind of residue that will ring and rumble in your head for a while, alongside the haunting closing bars of Marlene Dietrich singing Lili Marleen. It’s a beautifully crafted two hander, flawless in its sense of integrity and the manner in which it is constructed, lending balance and uncomfortable poetry to an understanding of good and evil, catapulting Shakespeare into common discourse, and speaking of small and huge victories in the face of huge defeat and the enormous spectre of war.
“Sie Weiss Alles” is written by James Cairns, directed by Tamara Guhrs and performed by James Cairns and Taryn Bennett, at the Nunnery, Wits Theatre Braamfontein, until August 11.
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Wits 969 Festival
Dates: Tuesday, 9th July 2013 - Sunday, 21st July 2013
Wits Theatre Complex, Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa