I am in Zürich in Switzerland on my own and decide to go out. The flyer for the Ballet Revolucion catches my eye in the hotel lobby but the cheapest tickets are already 68 Swiss Francs and the soundtrack is with the likes of Justin Bieber and Enrique Iglesias a bit too charts-orientated for me. The German comedian doctor Eckhart von Hirschhausen happens to be in Zürich (I read one of his books: he focuses on healthcare and medicine and I remember a hilariously logical theory on why doctors rarely smoke but nurses do so far more often) but the tickets are similarly highly priced; and I think comedy is funnier when shared with a friend.
My favourite Swiss artists are the masters of miming and puppeteering, the one and only Mummenschanz. I had the pleasure of seeing them in Munich when they celebrated a best of show from 40 years of performing and had discovered these “musicians of silence” while watching the original Muppet Show from the 1970s on DVD – they stuck out as the Muppets’ most unusual celebrity guests. My challenge in Munich had been arranging an evening of entertainment to be enjoyed by people not speaking much German (let alone Bavarian), others not speaking much English and none of them having a shared taste in music at all. My mission was accomplished: With the Mummenschanz ensemble not using any speech but forming dialogues solely with gestures, clay, balloons, tubes, tape, ropes, toilet rolls and stage props alike it was indeed a special evening for everyone! No one left with the feeling of this having been light entertainment just to please all either.
Now the Mummenschanz team is doing their new tour You & Me but the all dates until May are happening in the US. To learn about alternatives there are plenty of Litfaßsäulen in Zürich, round posts for advertising and announcements to tell citizens what is going on in town – I like reading from them when I wait for a bus or actually here in Zürich for the tram. I read that The 27 Club is coming to Zürich in February: I saw it in Hamburg’s wonderfully old-fashioned St. Pauli Theater on the Reeperbahn in August 2013, completely in English and am glad it is still touring. As the name suggests it’s a revue of the famous rock artist having lost their lives at the age of 27 and I mainly remember Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the then still quite recent tribute to Amy Winehouse. We got the last remaining tickets in the row right at the back and were glad about it in the end as it meant we were able to get up from our seats and rock along.
On zuerich.com I find an extensive overview, tidy on what is happening in Zürich – a theatre show on Davos sounds fascinating and I watch the trailer. The audience becomes actual attendees in Weltzustand Davos (Staat 4) of the World Economic Forum which takes place these days here in Switzerland but the evening is already sold out.
There is a premiere at the Schauspielhaus Zürich, Zurich’s drama house literally, the next evening. Single seats are still available, so I book mine for 25 Swiss Francs. Online I read that this theatre has an English Seasons (I spot Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks) which means they display English subtitles. The play Hundeherz (The Heart of a Dog) I am going to see is from a Russian novel by Michail Bulgakov and I can only hope that its spoken in high German indeed as for North Germans Dutch is easier to understand than the local Schwizerdütsch. I have not read anything of the author before and neither seen any plays based on his writings, but the it sounds obscure and grotesque and the summary refers to Goethe’s Faust and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Something for brain stimulation therefore.
Luckily for me the play is in high German. I am glad as I would have otherwise missed out on some of the sharp wit and observation of society in 1920s Moscow. No wonder the text was forbidden for a long time: It attacks the spoilt bohemian and eccentric doctor elite and their arrogance as much as the socialist movement, its leaders and even the theatre scene, on stage and in front of it. And as most critical plays it is a parable in which the story returns to the beginning: Have the characters (not) learned anything? Here it is a stray dog which is being used by a pioneering surgeon to revive a stabbed homeless person whose body the surgeon and his assistance took from the pathology. When waking up the creature is humanoid but has most characteristics of a dog and needs to learn human behaviour, speech, morals and manners from scratch – then his tail falls off, his fur and he learns fast but cannot get rid of his animal instincts completely. And perhaps he does not want to either. That is incredibly funny at times and shockingly mean at others. In an age when everything is possible, and the dominating question is “Should we really do it?” rather than “Can we do it?” this take on artificial creation of life is more important than I prefer. I feel reminded of George Orwell and wonder if it is a coincident that Hundeherz premiered on the day Donald Trump landed in Zürich?
The Schauspielhaus Zürich is a theatre with a red curtains and red seats, chandeliers and silky wallpaper and the audience tonight is very premiere indeed (if I am allowed to use “opening night” as an adjective) with their knitted couture, thick brimmed round glasses and monochrome tights. I sit in the row before the last one, deep under the balcony, but can see everything well. Additional points to the director for bringing a real dog to the stage.
I decide to look out for the author’s repertoire at home – it seems worth discovering.
Hundeherz by Michail Bulgakov — translated by Alexander Nitzberg, directed by Alvis Hermanis
***** out of 5 Stars
Premiered on January 25th, 2018
I paid 25 Swiss Francs for seat 497 in row 22 on the theatre’s website