Director Emily Louizou explains what made her choose Heiner Müller’s raw and challenging play.
After our production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, which was a play that had changed me in so many ways, I struggled to decide what I wanted my next project to be. I started reading Hamletmachine after a friend suggested I should read more of Heiner Müller’s writing. At first I did not know what to make of it. I had to read it a few times before understanding whether I liked it or not. After a couple of days I realised that ‘like’ was not even a verb that could be used to describe the effect this text had on me. But it did touch me. It shook me. It had a cruelty, and yet a sincerity which challenged and excited me.
I wondered why had I not come across a single production of any of Müller’s plays in London those past three years. Indeed, I realised that even though he is one of the leading playwrights and theatre-makers of the 20th century, he is not very well known to English-speaking audiences.
If you never had a chance to read Müller’s writing, he has a dark, suggestive power which repels, irritates and seduces at the same time! His images and words are shocking, in depicting a world which is disturbing and distracted. Similar to Kane, and yet very different, Hamletmachine takes the deterioration found in 4.48 Psychosis and opens it up from the human psyche to the whole world around us. It speaks of a Europe which is in ruins. Even though it was written in the 70s for a Europe which was still in crisis after World War II and for a Germany which was suffering from division and stagnation, it could not feel more relevant today. Müller had written in the programme of a later production of the play in 1986 that, “Germany is Hamlet, never quite knowing which way to go, how to decide, and therefore always making wrong decisions… It may be read as a pamphlet against the delusions of innocence in this world.”
Indeed, we are all living in a world which has so many fundamental problems, and yet governments are being busy burying these rather than facing them with actual solutions, while young people do not know which way to go. Look at the refugee crisis which shakes the world, the economic instability, the threat of violence and terrorism that Europe is under. Hamletmachine is a portrait of life after war. Something today is still “rotten in this age of hope” as Müller states in the beginning of Hamletmachine. When Müller himself directed the play in Deutsches Theater, his production was coincided with the fall of the Wall in Berlin. It was an “out of joint” time as he had described it: something has to fall in order for something else to rise up.
Müller wrote Hamletmachine having Germany in his mind, but for us this play becomes today a metaphor for the whole western world. We are inviting the audience to join our production, enter the world we have created in this old warehouse near London Bridge and experience the disease and the absurdity of a grotesque wasteland. Our production takes place in a world which is falling apart, within the pieces of a broken civilisation. It is a nihilistic piece but we are choosing to place the human body at the centre of this world – fragile and capable of both extreme destruction and beauty.