by Elfriede Jelinek
Wonderful, Wonderful Times
by Elfriede Jelinek
(based on real people)
We find ourselves at the end of the 50s.
The country has, for some time now,
been liberated from the Nazis and is breathing easy
during the period of the “economic miracle.”
They are four young people.
Rainer Maria Witkowski, his twin sister Anna, and Sofia Pachhofen, are 18-year-old high-school students; Hans Sepp is a 20 year old mechanic. The four spend their free time committing crimes whose ideological grounding is a peculiar nihilism—espoused especially by Rainer and influenced by his readings of Camus, Bataille, Sartre and the Marquis de Sade.
The twins are children of an ex-SS officer who abuses his wife physically and sexually; they belong to the lower middle-class. Sofia has grown up in an upper-class environment, a victim of prosperity perhaps. Hans Sepp, the son of a working-class communist who died in Mauthausen, lives with his mother.
The teens experience their class differences even in the relationships between them. The senseless violence of youth intertwined with the violent echo of recent history, produces a violence whose end is itself.
In the end Rainer kills his family and turns himself in to the police.
Jelinek’s novel is based on a true story.
In the 1960s, a Viennese high-school student
exterminated his entire family after reading Camus.
Why It Happened.
Jelinek’s mix of humour and a brutal, tragic reality was one of the main reasons I wanted to adapt the novel to the stage. It was a great challenge to deal with the intense oppositions, taboo topics and scabrous subject matter—such as the scenes of violence, sex and nudity. A way had to be found not to force emotion, not to underscore the tragic, but for everything to happen simply, stripped of noise.
At the same time there were, from the beginning, a number of questions. Why do these young people express themselves with such rage? Is it simply a social phenomenon—are they victims of history—or is there something more complex going on? How does one begin by rejecting totalitarianism and end up becoming oneself totalitarian?
And because answers imply risk, this particular directorial note plays safe by sending the ball in the audience’s court.
How It Happened.
The action takes place in a long-and-narrow space that gives one an impression of a cinema screen.
Between the audience and the actors is a screen (made out of see-through material) that serves to keep the events at a distance. Titles, mostly drawn from the work of Camus, are projected on the screen before each episode and are conceptually connected with the content of each episode.
The staged actions (scenes) take place in small places (frames) rigorously designated by light. The lighting is cold and the predominant colour is grey (creating a sense of black-and-white), which is often contrasted with colourful elements and props. The props are few but functional; the emphasis is on the human element.
An internal rhythm structures each of the scenes, which are frontally arranged and highly stylized, in contrast with the dialogue which is realistic. Between the scenes, short musical interludes comment on the tragic events with humour and irony.
The performance has three levels: the titles, the voice-over and the action. The titles bridge the gap between novel and play by utilising two-dimensional projections (the written words). The voice-over, located between the two-dimensionality of the text of the titles and the three-dimensionality of the action, narrates the performance. The dramatic action is divided into that which takes place on-stage and that which can be heard but takes place off-stage.
The performance was created in the context of three theses—stage direction as supervised by Viktoras Ardittis, playwriting as supervised by Eleni Papazoglou, and scenic design as supervised by Apostolos-Fokionas Vettas. It is an adaptation of the novel Die Ausgesperrten by Elfriede Jelinek, written in 1980, translated into English as Wonderful, Wonderful Times in 1990 and in Greek in 2001 by Lefteris Anagnostou as Oi Apokleismenoi (Greek: Οι Αποκλεισμένοι).
Direction: Eleni Efthymiou
Script: Anastasia Tzellou
Stage & costume design: Zoi Molivda Fameli
Assistant director: Lyto Triantafyllidou
Lighting: Zoi Molivda Fameli
Musical compositions: Nikias Fontaras, Myrsini Linou
Video & post-production: Dimitris Tzarouhis
Wardrobe assistants: Rodoula Platsidaki, Petroula Liora
In the play are utilised short passages from the work of Schubert, Beethoven, Chopin and Satie.
Anastasia Tzellou and Eleni Efthymiou were responsible for the adaptation; the text was finalised during rehearsals
Themis Theoharoglou: Rainer Maria Witkowski
Marilou Vomvolou: Anna Witkowski
Katerina Sisinni: Sofia Pachhofen
George Sofikitis: Hans Sepp
Stathis Mavropoulos: Mr Witkowski
Adrianna Alexiou: Mrs Witkowski
Efi Stamouli: Ms Sepp
Petros Papazisis: Schweiger, clerk, police officer
Christina Mpirmpili-Karaleka: Teacher
Myrsini Linou: girl, female classmate, servant, narrator
Nikias Fontaras: boy, male classmate, police officer, ticket collector, narrator
Orestis Dimitriadis: Anna Witkowski on the piano
Watch the full video of the performance