August Stramm’s one-act play Rudimentär is rarely performed; indeed after its 1924 Berlin premiere it was not revived until the 1970s. Part of the reason for this lack of attention might be its particularity: the action takes place in a sordid early 20th century Berlin slum tenement – a world scarcely recognisable to modern European audiences – while its characters speak exclusively in Berlin dialect. However, for all its dated qualities the play was nonetheless ahead of its time in terms of dramatic style. The characters’ speeches are almost Pinteresque in their brevity and understatement, while the tone veers between horror and comedy in a profoundly unsettling way. This striking juxtaposition of opposing tones is the play’s key strength, and one that is particularly emphasised in the production at the Theatre des Capucins : the action is accompanied by a vaudeville piano as well as silent film reels which neatly emphasise the comic elements of the play, and throughout there is an element of slapstick humour that underpins even the darkest moments on stage. Director Jean Paul-Raths is able to draw upon a talented cast to meet the challenge of projecting the characters’ emotional anguish while at the same time drawing out the dark humour of their situation – provoking laughter without belittling the suffering of the protagonists. Thanks to excellent direction and above all to some strong performances, this finely judged production does justice to a complex and challenging play.
Jozef van der Voort