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The Nibelungen were the keepers of a treasure which bestowed unparallelled powers and riches on them. In the Middle High German Nibelungenlied it is written how in a whirlwind of boundless passion – love, hate, greed and revenge – they destroy each other, and the treasure. In their contemporary version of Friedrich Hebbel’s mid 19th century revenge tragedy which he based on the medieval epic, director Sebastian Nübling and the actors of Gorki (German Theatre of the Year award 2014) catapult the story into our modern times. Now the world is not dominated with swords or tanks, but with the strength of its economy, the power of its technology and the success of its car industry. And so we are confronted with Germany relentlessly racing towards the next catastrophe in its ill-fateful history.
The German theatre company GOЯKI make their debut at the Holland Festival performing Der Untergang Der Nibelungen – The Beauty of Revenge. The play is inspired by the famous old-German mythical story about the downfall of the Nibelungen, the Royal House of Burgundy. Using Friedrich Hebbel's text (written in 1861) director Sebastian Nübling and his eleven GOЯKI actors give the age-old, quintessentially German story a modern twist. In a whirlwind of boundless passions – love, hate, greed and revenge – the Nibelungen ultimately destroy themselves. In the 13th century, the heroic saga – dating from the 5th and 6th century old-German oral tradition, partly based on historical fact, partly on mythical fiction – was put to rhyme in the epic poem the Nibelungenlied. Both Richard Wagner and J.R.R. Tolkien, amongst many others, used the story as inspiration for their finest work: Wagner for his four part masterpiece Der Ring des Nibelungen (1853-1874) and Tolkien for his The Lord of the Rings (1937-1949).
The Nibelungen is the name given to those who are the keepers of a legendary treasure, the cursed Rheingold. In the saga, the treasure transfers from King Nibelung and his sons to the hero Siegfried. After Siegfried's death the treasure falls into the hands of the royal house of the Burgundians. The epic starts with an unlikely victory and two improbable weddings. When the young hero Siegfried, in possession of supernatural powers, slays the dragon Fafnir, the legendary treasure of the Rheingold is bestowed upon him. As a reward for his bravery, Siegfried is given the hand of Brunhilde, the last of the daughters of the old gods, in marriage. But he rejects her, for he has his eye on Kriemhild, the sister of Gunther, King of the Burgundians and Siegfried's brother in arms. The men arrange an ill-fated agreement. If Siegfried manages to win Brunhilde's hand for Gunther, he will have permission to marry Kriemhild. But the women refuse to play along. Brunhilde is not interested in Gunther, and when Kriemhild inadvertently spills the beans about Gunther's and Siegfried's secret bargain, the game's up. The situation escalates into a myriad of secrets, misunderstandings and political scandals spiralling out of control. Siegfried is blamed for everything. After Gunther's loyal vassal Hagen has killed Siegfried, Kriemhild marries king Etzel and goes to live with him. The drama culminates in Kriemhild's terrible revenge on Hagen and her own family. The Nibelungen, guardians of the cursed treasure, know they will all be destroyed.
Through Friedrich Hebbel's explosive revenge drama, Sebastian Nübling and the GOЯKI ensemble explore recent German history as an insane, unstoppable suicide attack. Since World War II, Germany has still not learned to change its ways. Using the strength of its industry and economy, its political power and its conservative Western ideology, the country still wants to dominate the world. There is no room for new insights, new approaches to life, new ways of thinking or working. The consequences are disastrous.
The company have developed this basic idea into a wildly original play, featuring strong physical acting around a beaten up Mercedes Benz, sadomasochistic elements, slapstick and cartoonish exaggeration - elements which are also reflected in Eva-Maria Bauer's set and costume designs. The archetypical über-German hero Siegfried is portrayed by the Turkish-German actor Taner Şahintürk, dressed like a pimp in tracksuit bottoms with golden dollar signs. The male actor Till Wonka plays Brunhilde as a blonde transsexual donning fishnet stockings and a leather mini-skirt. In all its grotesque exuberance Der Untergang Der Nibelungen – The Beauty of Revenge delves into the dark, but very human desire to relentlessly race to destruction – a satirical commentary on the violent character of German history.