sat 10/04/2021

Murmel Murmel, King's Theatre, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Murmel Murmel, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Murmel Murmel, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Absurdist romp from Berlin's Volksbühne proves a hallucinatory if melancholy final theatre offering from this year's EIF

Gurning grimaces: the Volksbuhne's 'Murmel Murmel' at the Edinburgh International FestivalThomas Saurin

It felt a bit like we were seeing things. At the fag-end of Edinburgh’s 2015 August of festival mayhem, with extreme exhaustion and input overload mixing to brain-addling effect in the heads of most festival-goers and participants, a hallucinatory, day-glo farce of a show that obsessively repeats just a single word seemed pretty fitting.

It felt a bit like we were seeing things. At the fag-end of Edinburgh’s 2015 August of festival mayhem, with extreme exhaustion and input overload mixing to brain-addling effect in the heads of most festival-goers and participants, a hallucinatory, day-glo farce of a show that obsessively repeats just a single word seemed pretty fitting.

Murmel Murmel was the Edinburgh International Festival’s last major show to be unveiled. Flown in from Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre, it’s a crazy creation of maverick director and designer Herbert Fritsch based on Swiss Fluxus-influenced artist Dieter Roth’s 1974 book Murmel, whose 176 pages are filled with seemingly endless repetitions of the single word “murmel” (German for “mumble” or “marbles” – it never really matters which).

Performances from Fritch’s Volksbühne troupe could hardly be more committed

With its gang of 11 1960s swingers, all gurning grimaces and pratfalls into the orchestra pit, and its frenetically flying, multicoloured stage curtains constantly redefining the playing area, the show unashamedly mixes high art and low physical comedy, with fart jokes nestling in alongside abstract minimalist repetitions, fluid choreography undercut by intentionally amateurish movement. Fritsch describes the show as musical theatre, and although the performers never sing, they’re kept in close check by military-garbed musical director Ingo Günther, who often resorts to conducting their speech from behind his rank of keyboards and percussion in the orchestra pit.

There’s plenty of opportunity for Buster Keaton-style visual gags – a leader might emerge, the rest of the group attempting to copy his actions, or one of the performers might resort to a particularly convoluted, contorted way of rescuing a dropped hat. And performances from Fritch’s Volksbühne troupe could hardly be more committed, nor more intense.

Murmel MurmelBut in among the hallucinatory humour, Fritsch’s creation also often feels intentionally tedious, even claustrophobic, with the performers never able to move beyond their neurotic repetitions of the show’s single word – despite the infinite ways of framing it and milking it for meaning. It might be a celebration of extravagance in the face of restrictions, but those restrictions never go away.

It’s a feeling strengthened in the show’s two shorter concluding sections – when the performers re-emerge in skin-tight multicoloured bodysuits, then as balding clones playing mouth organs, yet still inevitably stuck with their single word of dialogue. And it’s that contrast between the show’s huge, messy, theatrical exuberance and its severe control and constraint that ultimately makes it feel – despite all the mugging, colour and exhilaration – strangely melancholy.

Murmel Murmel unashamedly mixes high art and low physical comedy, with fart jokes nestling in alongside abstract minimalist repetitions

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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