Saturday, 18 September 2004
The Last Days of Mankind, Justus Neumann, Sept 18, 2004
The Last Days of Mankind
by Karl Kraus, translation by Justus Neumann & Matthew Lillas
Where and When: La Mama, Sept 17 to 26, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Witnessing an actor such as Justus Neumann and his performance of The Last Days of Mankind reminds us why we go to the theatre. He makes it all worthwhile.
Neumann is a consummate actor, twice winner of Best Actor of the Year in Vienna (1984 -85).
He is a virtuoso, a compelling presence, charming, wild, electrifying, moving, hilarious - How else can I describe this man? He is a jewel.
The adaptation (Joseph Hartmann, Eva Schwing) reduces 800 pages and 500 characters by Austrian playwright Karl Kraus to a potent hour.
Neumann's translation, with Matthew Lillas, maintains the sardonic wit of Kraus's early 20th century script.
The play allows Neumann to conjure people, locations and events from Austria and Germany in the First World War.
He transforms vocally and physically into a parade of eccentric, funny and dramatic characters.
The play opens with a Newsboy and finishes with the voice of God. We witness the Reporter, the Prussian General, a Bride, a wounded and cuckolded soldier, an invalid beggar, a school teacher and myriad others.
The Optimist and the Pacifist act as a Chorus in this discourse on war.
The staging is sparse. Neumann sits or stands at an old wooden table for the entire hour.
On the opposite side of the long stage sits Julius Schwing, an inventive and skilful electric guitarist,.
He provides momentary scene change music, sound effects, riffs reminiscent of Hendrix and a final stunning musical evocation of the Allies' invasion.
The horror and stupidity of war is the core of Kraus's play.
Idiotic military leaders muse on their war plans, revealing their absolute disregard for life or peace.
These men are more dangerous through Kraus and Neumann's parody. One even rewrites Silent Night as Violent Night, thinking it hilarious.
Kraus's cynicism about war heightens the lunacy of the German Austrian fantasy about victory and military might.
Apart from some longer speeches, descriptions of scenes and dialogue are mostly read from the pages of a large book on the table.
The Last Days of Mankind brings the energy, excitement and magic of great acting up close in this provocative anti-war play.
LOOK FOR: The psychiatrist's tirade: a denouncement of war.
By Kate Herbert