“The image is a thorn in the eye” – An introduction to watching Hamletmachine (José Enrique Macián)

When asked by an American student to explain Hamletmachine, Heiner Müller responded, “If I know what I want to say, I say it. I don’t have to write it.” This sphinx-like refusal to either accept or give a definitive meaning or explanation is at the heart of Hamletmachine, both as a text and in performance. With this production, we, like Müller, have moved beyond the need for answers and solutions. No singular meaning can be given as explanation. What is of use here is conflict.

Rather than tell a story, this production places importance on formal structure, like a work of visual art, to create a landscape of the betrayed revolution and explore the place of theatre as a site of revolutionary change and critical discourse. At this junction, between cruelty and dialectics, the theatre moves beyond drama. The difference between drama (from the Ancient Greek to do) and theatre (literally a place to see) is defined.

There is no plot. The linear narrative of psychological realism is defied. The reality/cliché of the everyday is made strange in order to be seen anew onstage. The slice of life is replaced by the trauma of existence. No attempt at a representative/mimetic copy of the outside world is made. The stage creates its own reality.

The question then is asked – without a unified plot or coherent characters, what is the spectator’s relationship to this complex performance of collage, of colliding, contradictory fragments? The spectator’s task is to unravel the intertwined layers of theatrical elements: gesture, speech, stillness, lighting, projection, set, costume, music, etc. How do these elements work together? When do they work against one another? In the words of Marlene Dietrich, when does the face say something different than the voice?

Müller once stated that, “I don’t think that a play can be good unless you burn all your intentions during the writing process.” And in the process of staging/resisting Müller, the act of directing is akin to the authorship of playwriting. The creation of meaning rests in the minds of the spectator. The demand on the audience is to make its own meaning, independent upon, yet inevitably informed by our decisions during rehearsals, reordering the explosion of images, allusions, and associations created in performance.

Textmachine – A dramaturgical note (Katrin Dettmer)

The text of Die Hamletmaschine is only about nine pages long. This brevity is both blessing and curse, stepping stone and pitfall, starting point and cul-de-sac for any production taking on this piece and trying to make an evening out of it. The text is most certainly dense enough to fill hours in repetition without ever reaching a satisfactory result. For as much as Müller’s language draws the audience in, the text itself is resilient and obscures meaning within its own context. But this is no cause for headaches.

Heiner Müller once stated, “What often bores me in the productions is that the directors simply illustrate what is already in the text, instead of using it as association material, as a kind of supernovae, which inspires directors with ideas.” What is already in Müller’s text is a conglomerate of associations, quotes, and commentary – a textmachine in its own right, which processes literature, history, autobiography, theory, slapstick, politics, terrorism, sexuality, ethics. Et cetera. The textmachine deconstructs texts, assembles them again, checks on their credibility, makes fun of them

The text of our production takes its cues from Müller’s text; it pursues Shakespeare and his cultural heritage, following up quotes and penetrating deeper into the Shakespearian context. Other texts by other authors are also traced. Other histories are scrutinized. Other stories told. But this textmachine of ours is also at work when nothing in fact is spoken. It works in silence as well as in noise. It is always operating. This text is not only comprised of words but also of the movement on the stage, of light and of projection, of sound and music, of emptiness. What is not in the text is just as important. Some texts cannot be uttered, others are not allowed to make themselves heard. But their lack is always present – and an invitation to start up new textmachines.

This is the pleasure of Müller’s text that also pierces this production: the moment when body and mind are pursuing their own ideas, independent from the mise en scène, the moment of art and rebellion. In Juni 1807, Heinrich von Kleist wrote to his cousin Marie von Kleist, “it is invention everywhere, which amounts to a work of art. For not that, which is presented to the mind, but that, which the mind stimulated by this presentation thinks, is the work of art.”