There is a trend in Oliver Frljić’s work of confronting the audience with the hypocrisy of their bourgeois, theatre-going lives. In Our Violence, Your Violence, which premiered at the Croatian National Theatre in 2016, for example, he criticises the audience for continuing with normal, inane activities while millions are dying in the Middle East and continue to risk their lives getting to Europe. He highlights the hypocrisy in empathising more with people killed in terror attacks in European cities that with innocent victims of war in the Middle East, when the the colonial past of the West is hugely responsible for this unrest.
Fast-forward to Frljić’s Gorki– Alternative Für Deutschland?, which premiered at the Maxim Gorki Theater this March. In this production, Frljić scrutinises the complicit role of the people of Germany, and institutions like the Gorki Theater, in the rise of Alternative Für Deutschland. The party was founded in 2013 but did not gain any seats in the German parliament that year. Cut to eight years later and they now have ninety-two seats in the Bundestag. In a system where a neo-fascist party can be validated by taking its place in parliament, how complicit are those who, in theory, oppose their views? In Germany’s dark past, an authoritarian party initially gained seats in parliament, and ultimately overthrew the democracy in place to become one of the most notorious dictatorships in memory. This production highlights how those who idly let this happen are just as culpable as the tyrants themselves.
Although far-right ideas now have a platform in the German democratic system, they don’t normally have the same platform in the theatre. Frljić mirrors the German parliament by representing not only the diverse, socialist values of the Gorki, but also the right-wing ideas of Alternative für Deutschland, on stage. The opening scene deconstructs the Gorki’s identity as a diverse theatre. If only 25% of the population of Berlin are non-native to Germany, why is the majority of the Gorki’s ensemble made up of immigrants? Is that proportionally representative of Berlin?
As the production continues to give voice to xenophobia and go against everything that the Gorki stands for, the actors turn on the audience. They tell us we should be protesting this neo-fascist display by walking out of the theatre, but we don’t. We allow it to happen in the same way we allow the far right to go from strength to strength, to the point that they are now one of the best represented parties in parliament.
The danger of complicity is reinforced visually in the design. Mareike Beykirch stands in the centre of the stage while the rest of the ensemble, one by one, each take a piece of the costume that they have been wearing throughout the performance (designed by Sandra Dekanić), and dress her in it. Mehmet Ateşçi tops it off with the cap and lo and behold, she is dressed as a Nazi soldier. Igor Pauška’s design includes absurdly large letters that are dragged onstage, representing the acronyms of various German parliamentary parties. The ensemble try to spell out AfD but they seem to be missing the A. They find one on the sign of the huge replica model of the Gorki’s facade, which has been (quite symbolically) ripped apart, and complete the acronym. Everyone, collectively, is complicit. The Gorki is complicit.
Frljić certainly succeeds in making us consider the implications of validating the AfD, and the German people’s complicity in their rise. However, the production stops short of proposing what we ought to do about it. We do not leave the theatre galvanised. Gorki– Alternative Für Deutschland? makes us think, but it does not make us act.