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Boos and cheers for “Heldenplatz” at the Burgtheater

Boos and cheers for “Heldenplatz” at the Burgtheater

The premiere of Thomas Bernhard's new production of “Heldenplatz” ended just 20 minutes before midnight Saturday at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Frank Castorf's very free interpretation, including intermission, took five hours and ten minutes, and was met with boos, cheers and a lot of applause at the end. The evening differed in every way from Klaus Biemann's scandalous premiere on 4 November 1988 at the same location.

Kastorf, who declared a “strange” evening and a radical expansion of the horizons of this piece, originally written for “1988” to mark the 50th anniversary of Austria’s “annexation” of Germany, runs in an arc from Heldenplatz to Boro. Hall Station in Brooklyn. Set designer Aleksandar Dinich had already installed a subway station on the lower stage of the Burgtheater – including a subway car with scenery running through the windows.

The Long Evening takes us back to America visually and textually, for which the texts of the American author Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) are also responsible, as well as the stage design, which Castorf incorporated into the piece as well as impressions of a trip taken by later US President John Kennedy to Nazi Germany. A huge image of excited crowds at a Nazi parade ground forms the background, while posters from 1937 call on American patriots to march at a subway exit.

Fascism threatens always and everywhere, and that may be the message of this evening, as the director repeatedly refuses to make any political comments and gives free rein to his imagination. This also leads to a lot of idle time, some dead ends, and a concrete bunker through which the live video is streamed. Dinner in the third act takes place here as well, because you repeatedly encounter the “place of heroes” passages spoken by the six actors. Like the intense monologues by Birgitte Minichmeier and Franz Patzold, they are among the highlights of the production.

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“I'm going to let something explode. After the explosion comes the reconstruction,” Frank Castorf, who directed Elfried Jelinek and Peter Handke at the Burgtheater and Akademie in 2021, promises in advance. After its reconstruction, Heldenplatz is no longer recognizable. But at least he now has a subway connection.

(Service – “Heldenplatz” by Thomas Bernhard, Directed by: Frank Kastorf, Set Design: Aleksandar Dinjic, Costumes: Adriana Braga Peretzky, Music: William Meinke. With: Marcel Hubermann, Inge Mo, Birgit Minichmeier, Franz Patzold, Branko Samarovski, Marie – Louise Stockinger. Burgtheater. Upcoming performances: February 20-24 and March 3-22-28, www.burgtheater.at)