Playful, macabre and inventive, Werter, Werter is an interpretation of Wolfgang Goethe’s famous autobiographical novel The Sorrows of Young Werther; created and performed by Ján Mikuš of The Janacek Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic.
Written in the form of letters from Werther to his friend Wilhelm, the novel recounts the tragic downfall of a young artist consumed by unrequited love and driven to suicide. Ján Mikuš fuses key elements of the novel’s narrative structure with mime, ‘freak show’ and extracts from the letters to explore the character of the young philosopher turned fool in love.
Mikuš switches between real and surreal characters with remarkable ease. One moment he is the director of the show, announcing, with a wry smile, that the actor is lost somewhere in London; that London is big, but the show must go on. He asks the audience to be tolerant of his lack of acting skills. ‘Be with me’, he says. ‘Super’. Then when he becomes the actor, he demonstrates a wonderfully precise and evocative physical language.
As well as inhabiting Werter’s character, caught in the love triangle that drives him to desperation, he also plays the fool – a man pretending to be someone else, lost in the chaos of his own imagination. All these characterizations are repeated throughout the performance, each time a little different, taking them deeper into unknown territory.
What makes Werter, Werter so compelling is its ability to play with structure, illusion and anticipation – the basis of theatre. Thus, in the final quarter of the performance we observe Werter repeatedly committing suicide. From tragic act it becomes spectacle. The sounds of gun shots turn into machineguns. We see Werter run across the stage, repeatedly being murdered in front of a projection of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, whom he eventually shoots with his red toy gun, writing the words ‘Are you really with me?’ in front of the painting. Werter kills fate and love, yet Mikuš brings them back through the magic of repetition.
Reminiscent of Jan Švankmajer’s short animated films exploring the mechanisms of macabre spectacle, the performance toys with the meaning of theatrical tradition and the possibilities of play. There is a strong dialogue between the romanticism that Mikuš holds in such irony, and the spectacle he so skilfully drifts into. Theatre does not have to be linear or orderly, its strength lies in collage, Mikuš tells us. Werter, Werter is broken, odd, and wonderful.