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Route 5 of the Spieltriebe 3 Festival – Orange Peel, Ophelias: Death by water singing

Dolls in skin colour and moss green

by Wolfgang Behrens

Osnabrück, September 5th 2009. "I don't believe in happy faces." This is the answer that the young Serbian dramatist Maja Pelevic gave in the morning when asked what effect Osnabrück, allegedly Germany's happiest town, has on her. Certainly, walking through the town and peering into the faces of the friendly people of Osnabrück is pretty much a waste of time – but the sentence springs to mind on the green route 5 of the Spieltriebe 3-festival and it becomes comprehensable. Pelevic's doubt is based on a whole society.

For in Mirja Biels production of the German premiere of Pelevic's play "Orange Peel", the happy faces are suddenly there. Three actresses (Nicole Averkamp, Britta Firmer, Sophie Lutz) smile and smile because they are amused by being desirable and attractive. Anyone who doesn't smile and enjoy themselves quickly becomes undesirable, A woman should be pretty happy, preferably pretty and happy.

Wild goose chase in a hamster wheel
Maja Pelevic has written "Orange Peel" in a vivacious and painfully funny way, but at the same time in a formal and full scene sequence. A young woman tries by all manner of methods to fit the specified picture of feminine beauty, from crazy party girl to model wife to single mother. The wild goose chase of the protagonist turns out to be a hamster wheel. Success in the search for self-identity isn't foreseen as the criteria for achievement as the flow of society's expectations is subjected to continual change.

Sophie Lutz, Nicole Averkamp, Britta Firmer, photo copyright: Klaus Fröhlich

It can be said that Mirja Biel has congenially interpreted the play. For the most part, dashing around in skin coloured underwear, her three actresses romp and mess around through the adaptation like shop window models – women without character. Speeded on by the sounds of clubbeats they urge one another on, comparing themselves to beauty idols from Nephratite to Lady Di that are beamed onto the wall. They comment on and sum each other up with superb gestures and to the point ping-pong dialogues. Proud masculinity shines through because of its very absence – as a male counterpart a wonderfully absurd cardboard cut-out figure is used by one of the two actresses.

The worst enemy of a woman is a woman
In this production therefore the worst enemy of a woman seems to be a woman: The pressure of womanliness is created by women themselves – men aren't even neccessary here. Heidi Klum now decides what a "happy face" is and that a baby belongs to it, is clear anyway. Pelevic's heroine then at some point decides to be radically different, by owning up to her orange peel skin as a symbol of womanliness (with Mirja Biel, Britta Firmer stuffs orange balls into her tights: a great image). But even with this decision she seems dependent, as naturally the negation is still relative to the setting of ideology. The ideology is and for the time being remains the model-life.

The leap that the green route audience are expected to make could hardly be greater – content-wise it is only a small jump. In their opera "Ophelias: Death by water singing", the Norwegian composer Henrik Hellstenius and his librettist Cecilie Løveid tell the story of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" with the view of Ophelia, and look here: Ophelia proves to be – just like the women in Pelevic's play – unable to find and live a female identity. The message in Hellstenius and Løveid has been a common one for centuries: the woman as the victim in a world of powerful men and mother-in-laws.

Milky awnings blow in the wind
It doesn't sound so very exciting and maybe it isn't: yet nobody who was at the performance of "Death by water singing" is likely to forget it. This is foremost due to the room, which truly takes your breath away: in the old goods station the audience is seated at the top of a gigantic, roofed track layout (what in heaven's name did it use to be? A depot?)

Tadeusz Jedras, Chihiro Meier-Tejima, Miyuki Nishino, Heike Hollenberg,
photo copyright: Klaus Fröhlich

With the help of strong headlights, which were partly installed hundreds of meters away, and the milky awning blowing in the wind, the scenery is dipped in a surreal light: the green, that is meanwhile sprawled in the track bed, was enriched by stage designer Johanna Fritz, who added a bush here, some ivy there – and as Ophelia (the vocally strong, yet representational somewhat clumsy Lydia Ackermann) is classically pale-skinned with blonde streaks and a white dress, you believe to be in an industrially alienated pre-raphaelite painting.

Whispering, rumbling, flickering music
The whispering, rumbling, flickering, partly loud and partly tantalising beautiful music for a chamber music ensemble corresponds with the eerie setting. Who would want to complain longer than necessary that stage director Solvejg Frankes has added some seemingly unnecessary ideas (like golden plastic bottles that fly above the tracks?) next to some quite successful images. Mind you: we don't lose the sight of the story – especially the wood nymphs that play with fate tug at Ophelia. The future mother-in-law Getrud (very present: Eva Schneidereit), who hides a dominatrix costume under her moss-green dress, laces herself up in a corset. Hamlet meanwhile runs around as a sword-swinging puppet and is forced to night of love with Ophelia by means of a plastic foil.

In the end Ophelia loses her mind, waving doll-like in the depths of the trains tracks. Yes, we understand: as a woman she is disillusioned and now removes herself from society. This certainly doesn't effect us anymore: Instead we look and listen in amazement to the colossal installation of both room and sound – and that is a lot, after all.


Orange Peel
by Maja Pelevic
From the serbian version by Mirjana und Klaus Wittmann
German premiere
Stage director: Mirja Biel, stage design: Majorie Voorhuis, costume design: Vera Nabbefeld. Starring: Nicole Averkamp, Britta Firmer, Sophie Lutz.

More about Maja Pelevic in our biographical guide.

Portrait of Orange Peel here.

Information on the theatrical landscpa of Serbia from a report by Jovan Ćirilov.


Ophelias: Death by water singing
Opera in 13 scenes by Henrik Hellstenius
Libretto by Cecilie Løveid
German premiere (in english)
Musical director: Till Drömann, stage director: Solvejg Franke, stage design: Johanna Fritz, costume design: Elif Zeynef Ceren Korkmaz.
Starring: Lydia Ackermann, Tadeusz Jedras, Eva Schneidereit, Heike Hollenberg, Chihiro Meier-Tejima, Miyuki Nishino; members of the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra: Annika Wahlström, Kaori Yoshida, Lisa Kläger, Sabine
Szycknys, Marian Ghisa, Günter Helms, Henry Leo Koch, Hans-Christoph

More about Henrik Hellstenius in our biographical guide.

Portrait of Ophelias: Death by water singing here.

Route plan



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