'Sauve qui peut', pas mal comme titre
There's nothing mealy-mouthed about Thomas Bernhard's loathing of all things Austrian and the bigotry and littleness of mind that allowed fascism to fester and flourish in society. But for those who know him as a master of rant with a penchant for lengthy, vicious tirades, it's easy to overlook just how funny he can be when he gives his biting satire free rein.
No shortage of laughs in this adaptation of five short sketches from Dramascules ( Acquittement, Glaces, Le Mois de Marie, Match, Un mort ). Tg STAN, the Belgian group whose name stands for Stop Thinking About Names, nail their colours to the mast in their choice of title. It basically translates as "'Run for your Life', Not a Bad Title" but is far more savage - think about number one, get out while the going's good and who cares if the dregs of society get left behind, locked up or put down en masse?
Instead of Bernhard's favoured intellectuals picking up on life's absurdities, these sketches serve up the little man in various forms - minor dignitaries and military types, pretentious wives for whom fear of the outsider lurks close to the surface. Chaos (i.e. social integration) is just round the corner. Nicely symbolised by a vast tarpaulin hanging over the stage like an inglorious sword of Damocles, it falls messily and creates a clumsy assault course.
That's just the start of tg STAN's efforts to perform Bernhard with less wordiness and more bounce. The result is an ingenious but rather exhausting diet of clownery, focused on the comforting ritual of getting dressed. These characters don't just put on clothes, they gird their loins to face the incurably rotten world peopled by Turks and worse. But those loins are clad in baggy beige Y-fronts or worse. Suburban (wo)men make easy targets for ridicule.
The satire flows from cruel interweaving of petty detail, offhand references to atrocities, revealing remarks that tail away. Orchestrated bourgeois clucking is punctuated by outrageous outbursts. Inconvenient truths are smugly airbrushed by beady-eyed bigots, darting poison with every peck.
Financial Times, Clare Shine, 8th January 2008