The German critics proclaimed Persians staged by the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin and directed by Dimiter Gotscheff the best production of the last season. The first-rate actors perform the tragedy of the vanquished, a topical subject in modiern history, whose defeat determined the tragic future of their people.
In 480 BC the Persians lost the Battle of Salamis to the Greeks, whom they had previously oppressed. Eight years later a Greek wrote about this major event from the defeated enemy’s point of view. The Persians is now the world’s oldest surviving play. In it, a nation recognizes its glory days are over. The tragedy is an “organized nervous breakdown” (as translator Durs Grünbein describes it), a never-ending cry for help translated into words. Aeschylus lets those responsible for the fiasco have their say, from the Chorus of Elders to the defeated military commander, King Xerxes. The playwright examines contemporary history, but from a viewpoint that incorporates both past and future. He shows that the winners of today are the losers of tomorrow. Even when the dead are quickly buried and forgotten, they remain present. In his theatrical works.
In his performances, Dimiter Gotscheff has always strived for the cathartic effects - both spiritual and physical. We have had the opportunity to meet this director at the 20th Bitef, and we will be able to witness his work in the upcoming season as well, when he will come again with Dejan Dukovski's Bure Baruta, within the ENPARTS program.
This piece is very important to me. We worked extremely hard on it and spent weeks doing intensive readings of Peter Witzmann and Heiner Müller’s script until the language had infiltrated our brains and our guts. The text is extremely unwieldy, but it was important to me to get by without using any devices – by that I mean those flashy theatrical effects to which one resorts on occasion. For The Persians I only wanted to work with the three basic constants in theatre: actors, language and space.
(Interview with DER FREITAG newspaper - May 11, 2007)
What the critics say…
What a sensation! Along with Gotscheff’s Ivanov at the Volksbühne, this staging of The Persians is probably the best thing anyone looking for challenging theatre can see right now! Like a monolith, primeval tragedy stands before us, with no middle ground in sight into which one could flee – neither the spectators nor the four actors. Everything rests on their shoulders. They compress two-and-a-half millennia of human tragedy into 90 minutes. They’ve taken an enormous gamble – and it’s paid off in spades! Margit Bendokat, the singular – in every sense of the word – representative of the chorus expresses her reflections on the war with total concentration. It’s as if she only understands the meaning of her words in the very moment she says them, letting them pour out in a single scream. Almut Zilcher’s Queen Mother is a restrained aristocrat in the face of catastrophe, a perhaps incestuously-driven mother animal who breaks out in seconds-long, mute jubilation at the news that her son has survived – and simultaneously has 27 more facets to her personality. Koch and Finzi, the pair of messengers bringing news of the war, are a compression of every rhetorical culture technique, from tragedy to farce, empathy to irony, distancing to direct quotation. For almost 30 minutes Koch and Finzi speak simultaneously – yet allow the most staggering differences to appear in their consonance. When a fiery-red-headed Koch appears as the shadowy ghost of Darius who — in a rage about his son’s failures— drives out the entire portrait gallery of successful ancestors, and when Finzi appears on stage as Xerxes, pushes the shadow wall back to make room for his presence and, in his closing monologue, lets the entire catalogue of rulers in world history – including all artistic quotations and revenants – shrivel up, you can only sit there flabbergasted and say: Now that’s theatre!
Dimiter Gotscheff, born in Bulgaria, came to East Berlin in the 1960s to study veterinary medicine. However, within a short time he became a pupil of, and assistant to director Benno Besson – first at the Deutsches Theater and later at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Gotscheff made his directorial debut in Nordhausen with Heiner Müller’s Die Weiberkomödie (Women’s Comedy). In 1979 Dimiter Gotscheff left East Germany in connection with the expatriation of songwriter and dissident Wolf Biermann, and returned to Bulgaria. Since the mid-1980s he has worked at theatres throughout Germany and Austria. His stagings have frequently been invited to Berlin’s Theatertreffen festival, including Black Battles with Dogs by Bernard-Marie Koltès, Chekhov’s Ivanov (both Volksbühne productions), and Molière’s Tartuffe (a co-production of the Salzburg Festival and Hamburg’s Thalia Theater). Several of his stagings have been named “Production of the Year” by a jury of theatre critics and his Ivanov won the 3sat Innovation Prize at the Theatertreffen festival in 2006. Dimiter Gotscheff became one of the Deutsches Theater’s in-house directors during the 2006/2007 season. Prior to The Persians he staged Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, GERMANIA. Plays based on texts by Heiner Müller, Ödön von Horváth’s Tales from the Vienna Woods, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Showered with critical acclaim, his production of The Persians was chosen the best production of the Year 2007 by the critics’ poll in the trade journal »Theater Heute« (Theatre Today).