American Dogfight in Vienna, Austria

“It means nothing to me, Oh Vienna” sang Ultravox and you will hum it for sure when you’re admiring the imperial grandness of the Austrian capital – just do not take literally what you are actually singing, I am sure the locals hear it all the time, along with lots of Falco’s “Amadeus, Amadeus”.

I love Vienna and cannot resist the charm of its coffee house culture, its food (portions and quality) and its respect for their monarchs of the past and of the art deco era following – just everything arts. The soundtrack of the audio guide in the Grand Tour in baroque Schloss Schönbrunn will make you waltz up the red carpets, Mozart’s kleine Nachtmusik will be the constant lullaby of your mind and back home you might even leave André Rieu: Live in Vienna on when its next on TV (happens to me every time).

Friends have shown me the less obvious side of their Wien when the Prater fun fair, the Naschmarkt and apfelstrudel in the rotating café on top of the television tower were ticked off – and I had finally reached museum overload.

As I am on my own tonight the theatre scene wants to be checked out and even though I just warmed up to the Viennese accent again I cannot resist deciding for Vienna’s English Theatre.

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I love checking out the English theatre scene when I am abroad

Vienna’s English Theatre claims to be the oldest of its kind in continental Europe and was founded in 1963 by an Austrian director and his American wife. While browsing its history online I come across illustrious names like Judi Dench, Leslie Nielsen, Jeanne Moreau and many more, all having been on stage here. More will be discovered in the theatre’s café when I go there spontaneously half an hour before the show starts and ask if a ticket might be available. Luckily there is space in the row number 12 (which is actually not the very last row as I have chairs on landings behind me). No one tall sits directly in front of me and I see well. While admiring the chandeliers and the murals on the ceiling I grab a flyer from the nearby theatre Schauspielhaus Wien and learn about their English Mondays. Next time.

The VET has just launched Vienna’s English Theatre Academy and tonight we are being shown a musical by the VET Youth Ensemble who are doing their 7th season. It is called Dogfight and based on a film from 1991 I have not heard of and later guess why it might have passed me. The musical premiered in New York City in 2012 and was staged in London in 2014.

After reading that the score is written by the team behind Lalaland I am shivering but this is due to an open air cinema night last summer at Hampton Court and lots of rain in the poncho I was given. We left after fifteen cold, wet minutes of film screening and I have not seen the rest of the film since (but obviously got Tui’s nod to it in its latest omnipresent advertising campaign).

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The little cafe in the theatre served a typical Abendbrot of cold sandwiches

Dogfight is, as we learn, a terribly humiliating lad’s game about who can bring the ugliest girl to a party and give her the impression to have genuinely a great evening. In 1963s petticoat & milkshake America a bunch of army recruits dogfight, knowing that they will be sent to Vietnam shortly and we witness them all trying to play cool about it by being cruel to everyone who could dare thinking they were not in control of themselves.

Only when the cruelest point has been reached, the humiliation strikes back and there is the confrontation of hurting and being hurt and that is heartbreaking to witness – the mood does not improve when a man with all his friends being dead returns to a changed country in the late 1960s which does not seem to admit his presence anymore. No Home Town Heroes cheering awaits him and even hippies spit in his face. Only guilt is left, guilt to have survived. Does this make it a classic anti war drama already?

I do not think so but I respect this message, having always suspected that American army content rarely works in Europe, at least not for me. Is it rather a tragic jarhead romance if there is such a genre?

The girl who the main character has been so cruel to before he went to war, barely recognizes him first. In the end she does though, and she is the only one, she also remembers never having heard from him again – and gives him a hug. And that is moving. The audience loves it as I can witness from the chairs before me and I smile as well.

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A bit of America in Austria

Dogfight – after the film and screenplay by Bob Comfort, adapted by Peter Duchan

Directed by Adrienne Ferguson and Richard Panzenböck

Score and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

Performed at Vienna’s English Theatre until March 20th, ticket prices started from 25 Euro

Vienna’s English Theatre is in Josefsgasse 12 in 1080 Vienna, Austria, and easily reached by public transport via U-Bahn stations Rathaus or Volkstheater, also by bus and tram

www.englishtheatre.at

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