I started watching the play for my latest review quite a while ago but have only just finished it. This was simply because it was being streamed via the Digital Theatre platform and when I began it all those weeks back there were some technical issues apparently afflicting the site. So I put it to one side having been told that they were relaunching with improved capabilities – and so it has proved. Digital Theatre relaunched at the beginning of this month and although the content on the site is much the same, I’m happy to report that the technology is now definitely of superior quality – this is just as well as there are still several things I want to see and review on there. Anyway, first to unfinished business and the play Over There.
This is a piece by Mark Ravenhill and a strange beast it is to be sure. Premiered as part of a season of plays about Germany at The Royal Court back in 2009, I suppose it would best be described as a political allegory. A pair of identical twins separated 25 years previously are living either side of the Berlin Wall. Karl, in East Germany, was brought up by the boys’ father a dyed in the wool Communist while the mother in the west held on to Franz. Although they are physically separated they have retained that special bond which means that each knows what the other is thinking/saying/doing but when they meet up it appears that they have as much in the way of differences as they do in terms of similarity. After the fall of the Wall they can meet more readily. Karl starts to morph into an identical clone of his brother wearing his clothes and even posing as him when he is off work sick one day. Franz has a young baby and gradually becomes aware that his twin is starting to try and take possession of the new born. Ravenhill’s bit of rather heavy handed symbolism about who gets to dominate the newly formed unified country here is somewhat undermined by the child being represented by a domestic sponge – presumably because it absorbs whatever is put in front of it.
You will gather from this that the play is not in the naturalistic/realist mode and it drifts increasingly away from anything remotely grounded as it progresses. Both the twins spend a lot of time in their underpants – red for Communist East Germany, naturally. One of them strums a guitar and sings a somewhat generic song which seems to have no bearing on anything else that has happened or will be happening. The other covers himself in chocolate sauce, flour, ketchup, mayonnaise and all manner of other comestibles. I think this is meant to convey some ideas about consumerism (but don’t quote me) and the suggestions of cannibalism in the closing moments are another heavy handed piece of symbolism about how it is really the Western ideal that prevails by swallowing up the old Eastern politics. The piece is also bookended by scenes which seem to satirise the American way of life – this, in essence swallows up both brothers/countries. Oh yes, and there’s also cross dressing, full on nudity and a lot of swearing.
The most interesting aspect of the play is that the protagonists are real life twins and acting powerhouses Harry and Luke Treadaway. While Harry seems to be more focused as Franz/the west in the end it is he that exudes the greater sense of excess. Luke as Carl/the east meanwhile is clearly less stable from the start – see what they did there? The duo naturally make a mesmerising team although it is hard to envisage that anyone else could ever pull off the parts in such a way again. I don’t know if being brothers made what they were asked to do easier or harder but it’s unlikely that such a rapport would be found between two unrelated actors. Apparently each of them worked with a separate director (Ravenhill himself and Ramin Gray) so this may account for some of the disjointed outcomes. It’s just a pity that they didn’t have better material with which to work.
Ravenhill can certainly write a decent script – witness his 2018 play also for the Royal Court, The Cane; even more, take a listen to his recent audio play Angela. But Over There isn’t it. This is the writer in “let’s shock the audience” mode but Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane have done it better and I was thankful the play was only 70 minutes long. To think I’d waited all those weeks to complete my viewing only to find it a rather risible silly piece which was messy – in all senses. It merely left me feeling sorry for the stage cleaners and hoping that the Royal Court has a decent shower block and a good supply of soap.
Over There is available via Digital Theatre – click here
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