Director: Bastian Kraft
Writer: Bastian Kraft
Based on: Klaus Mann‘s novel
Cast: Nicholas Ofczarek, Fabian Krüger, Dörte Lyssewski, Sabine Haupt, Gunther Eckles, Till Firit, Sylvie Rohrer, Max Gindorff, Martin Reinke, Dorothee Hartinger
Seen on: 23.11.2018

It’s the 20s/30s in Germany. Hendrik Höfgen (Nicholas Ofczarek) is an actor, reaching for a higher position. That means arranging himself with the people in power, although that isn’t always simple. His (former) friend, the author (Fabian Krüger), watches Höfgen’s rise with concern, worried about the implications for Höfgen himself, but even more so with the regime change and what it brings.

Mephisto was not great, but it did have its moments. It’s certainly an interesting piece of theater with a lot to say – which means it has more going for it than a lot of other plays I saw.

Three men on a black stage, one is wearing a black and white fool's hat.

I haven’t read Mann’s novel (on which the play is based), although it has been on my bookshelf pretty much forever. I know of it and how Höfgen is actually based on Mann’s brother-in-law Gustav Gründgens. It appears that compared to the novel, there has been at least one major change: in the character of the author in the play, the writer Klaus Mann becomes a character in his own story. Plus, both Mann’s and Gründgen’s homosexuality (bisexuality?) finds its way into the play – I don’t think that it was part of the original novel.

The way the homosexuality is included in the play did make me a little uncomfortable, especially as the film also includes BDSM imagery. It appears that once again, homo and kink are seen as a package. Plus, the sexual tension between the author and Höfgen feels neither particularly real, nor very insightful – it felt more like a gimmick to me.

Two men standing chest to chest, each grabbed by a woman from behind.

That being said, the cast was excellent (apart from the lack of chemistry) and the story itself is amazing – in an entirely terribly and scary way because they manage to show how very current it is. It’s not a thing of the past at all. They also include video installations to very great effect, which I particularly enjoyed because I found the staging – as usual for the Burgtheater in all black with very few props (this time a conveyor belt took center stage) – rather boring.

But as is so often the case in the Burgtheater, the play was at least half an hour too long and the heating was way too hot, making oxygen a rare commodity, compounding the length of the play. They also had a drummer on stage who accompanied the play (much like the soundtrack of Birdman) and that got on my nerves pretty quickly.

So in the end, even though there was much in the play that is strong, it just didn’t leave me excited.

A man in a suit standing in front of a stylized eagle, behind him a figure in a red dress with a white face.

Summarizing: good, but not great.

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