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Time Out Critics´ Choice 14 April 1999


The Ignoramus and the Maniac White Bear (Fringe)


Maddy Costa


It´s hard to know precisely the depth of David Fielding´s involvement in AKT Theatre Company´s exhilarating production, but he did win a Time Out theatre award in 1993 for his production of Thomas Bernhard´s ‘Elisabeth II’ and his translation here, executed with the director Matthias Janser, bears all the marks of someone at ease with the writer’s difficulties. Bernhard’s dense, fragmentary dialogue is rendered in a language that is pithy, emotive and fluid, and the actors clearly savour every word.

Dale Rapley is riveting as a doctor who describes in crisp detail how to perform an autopsy while discussing a famous opera singer with her blind, alcoholic father. Simultaneously he lambasts culture with cruel wit and gives vent to his misanthropic views on life, which are bleak but never feel too weighty, thanks to his agile performance.

Eventually, Lucy Stevens’ soprano stalks on to prepare for her role in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’, and the effect is electrifying. She is every bit the prima donna yet sympathetically vulnerable; her despair is lucid as she expresses her frustration with fame, her loathed audience, and her career’s routines. Stevens is breathtaking in the role: her impeccable pronounciation, gorgeous voice and maniacal laugh, itself edged with coloratura, are hilarious and disquieting at once.

It’s a maddeningly surreal play, and Janser’s naturalistic approach makes it even more terse and bizzare. Andrew Walsh’s set is impressively astute: a mirror reflects the audience, surrounding the singer with eyes and making us uncomfotably aware of how it feels to be constantly watched. And if the lighting is unimaginative, it only heightens the effect of Bernhard’s startling ending.





The White Bear Theatre

Rachel Halliburton


The Ignoramus and the Maniac, and its middle-class preoccupations with opera, fine wines, and the relationship between a gifted daughter and her over-ambitious father. This would be until it noticed the subversive, fascinating dissection of how humans try to control the world through their obsessions: a doctor reduces all human beings to a series of anatomical lists; an alcoholic father is emotionally dependent on his daughter's career as an opera- singer; and she lives to crack the suffocating shell created half by her father, half by her talent. The Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard (who died in 1989), has created a surreal dialogue in which the three main characters' individual obsessions mean that they cannot talk properly to each other. Like parallel lines, their ideas about opera-singing run together smoothly side by side, but never meet. Dale Rapley, as the doctor, talks in arrogantly comic streams of anatomical jargon - such as: "A lobulated liver has scar-like crevasses, my friend." His delivery is so sharp, he could make a telephone directory sound like an interesting philosophy, while Lucy Stevens, debating the emotional quandary of how to escape the role of perfect performer, reveals a powerful voice and a poised delivery that underpin Matthias Janser's stylish, self-possessed production. The on-stage mirror encapsulates the conflict between objective perception and emotional identity in the opera-singer's voice.