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The self-destruction spasms

Theater: Revolution
With Revolution, the controversial Danish playwright Christian Lollike exhibits modern man's paralysis and powerlessness.


He sits rigidly behind the keyboard, while the others sit in front of the stage. So long is he sitting there, and so utterly motionless that the audience is left wondering whether it is a human or a doll we are watching. But then something happens. Or – hardly any. Sure enough, other individuals step into the stage and, well, the figure behind the keyboard starts to move, but these figures assume almost no human form: they move in slow motion and in patterns that seem to be predetermined, like the programmed dolls. who merely performed an expected act. 

In Christian Lollike's piece Revolution, who has just had a Danish premiere in Aarhus, we are in a dollhouse. The room in front of us is illuminated by striking surfaces that shed a sterile light beyond a living room with the character of an institution of the worst kind – or perhaps a minimalist-decorated living room from Ikea. This is where we meet the zombie-like  the shapes that all four wear eerily expressionless transparent masks. Now one of them opens his mouth, and out comes words – but not from his mouth: The distorted words flow slowly and piecemeal from a hidden speaker somewhere nearby. 

form Bridal

You should not really be surprised at this form of expression. Christian Lollike has the habit of putting the wild in the scene. Do we take a look beyond his oeuvre and pieces like Normal life, Judgment over screams og Manifesto 2083 (based on Anders Behring Breivik's manifesto), we will spot repeated provocative mobilizations where Lollike expands the theater space and the way in which a play can be told. Thematically, he has often revolved around the problematic situation of man in the world, and as his pieces seek to explore the reality we are in the middle of, the result is political theater. Lollike doesn't necessarily shout loudly, but his inflamed, tabooed subjects are staged so you can't avoid seeing them. The reactions have not disappeared either. Lollike caught the most attention at the premiere Judgment over screams, where political forces threatened to remove support for Aarhus Theater if the play was staged. There is almost always a certain amount of controversy and virak when Lollike comes up with something new, and the grotesque depictions of everyday life and the almost annoying stylistic are clearly to be found in Revolution. 

The takeover of the algorithms

With the mechanical figures on the stage in Aarhus, the conversation has gradually started. The tempo is still slow, the voice is still distorted – but the content of the words has become more relevant and arguably speaks almost of our world. About the crises there huseris. They are mentioned in succession: refugee crisis, value crisis, economic crisis, humanitarian crises and then, of course, the overriding climate crisis. One should do something, it says. We should do something. Because everyone knows that something is wrong, they say and point towards the audience, and now it is as if the rigid gazes from these puppets become penetrating and remind us all of how little we are doing. 

The audience often bursts out laughing, which is almost in itself eerie.

Then one of the figures suggests that what is needed is a revolution: a radical upheaval of the whole. Nothing less. The very word «revolution» stands in stark contrast to the figures of the stage and their acting and casting. They are dressed in conformist, slightly sterile robes, which, however, also signal a certain kind of bourgeoisie. They often take a seat in their sofa, and turn off the TV when reality becomes too harsh to watch through the screen. Should these wicked, passive people really be able to revolutionize anything? 

Maybe they can. At least the ideas are in line. Buying a Revolution Kit at Ikea? Abolish nation states and leave multinationals to run our society? Abolish property rights and welcome all refugees? Or let the algorithms take over and dictate who lives where and for how long?

Last convulsion

The wealth of ideas becomes in a way symptomatic of our time, and probably also of the audience sitting on the rows of chairs. Because we know very well that it is bad, and we may also have some thoughts about what you might be able to do to make things a little better. But the road from thought to action is long and complex. Maybe that's why the play towards the end becomes more solid in addressing the audience. Yes, at least it ends in a pillow fight between players and spectators, as if these four figures want to beat the audience to do something. A revolutionary revival, hysterically staged.

The hyper-theatrical expression initially inhibits the emotional register, but as the performance progresses and the characters first become shrill to finally get real voices – and such appear more like people of flesh and blood – yes, then the overly theatrical expression makes sense. Here the play becomes seriously relevant, and one understands why Lollike is so weighty and important a political voice in contemporary theater.

There is almost always a certain controversy and confusion when Lollike puts on a new play.

Art historian Mikkel Bolt has authored the sharp text that alternates between bourgeois gibberish and revolutionary bile. The lyrics show the human wealth of ideas, but also how easily even the most urgent things just stay with the talk. Lollike in particular succeeds in exhibiting our passivity and powerlessness. We know it's crazy, but it's so damn hard to imagine another world – because here's already a world. The imagination is blocked. That's maybe the worst.

The audience often bursts out laughing, something that is almost in itself eerie, because there is hardly much to smile about. But maybe that's just the way we humans deal with crises. When we stand there in front of the abyss, paralyzed and desperate, man's last convulsive act is to strike up a laugh.

Plays in both Aarhus and Copenhagen:
Aarhus Godsbanen's Open Stage 15 August – 1. September
Black / White, Copenhagen 5. – 29. September.  Aarhus Teater Stiklingen 2. – 13. October.

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

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