Land Without Words

by Dea Loher, translated by David Tushingham


The Play

This one-woman drama investigates the role of those watching at a distance in times of war and whether the value of art is obliterated by a brutal reality. A writer struggles to find words for her thoughts and feelings and takes on the role of a painter. The vivid imagery is translated into detailed physical activity in the playing space using materials such as clay,earth, water—the painter’s experiences clearly leave their mark on her.

War meets art in this intimate parable. A painter seeks the perfect image, but in K., a middle eastern city, she experiences the effects of war, violence and poverty, impossible to depict. Now she is forced to confront her lifelong beliefs in the value of art, and how to deal with her position in the world today.

Written by multi-award winning author Dea Loher, recipient of the 2009 Berlin-Award of Literature and the Heiner-Müller-Professorship. A powerful piece of poetic realism from one of Europe’s most original, prolific and challenging voices.


Gallery

Lucy Ellinson, English Theatre Berlin, November 2009
1 / 18
photo: Claire Schirck

Team

Direction Lydia Ziemke / Performance Lucy Ellinson / Design Claire Schirck / Sound Owen Lasch / Light Design Victor Egea


Director’s Note

In 2005 Dea Loher was invited to travel to Kabul and work with Afghani writers. She also encountered a war-torn city and its traumatised citizens. Afterwards her medium, language, failed her at first. As language implies meaning she was stalled because in K it seemed life itself had no meaning in the face of all the random deaths within the city and each person’s immediate history. She said later that she felt no artistic activity could assist the maker or the spectator in their dealing with these matters. This resonated strongly with my own questioning.

At the same time Dea Loher felt she had to bear witness so that this reality is not forgotten or brushed aside with the overall sensationalist media language.

To create distance for herself she replaced the medium of language with that of visual art, thus making it valid for all artistic activity. She felt she had to restrict the piece to the inward view of the artist in her context in Europe rather than comment on anything she had seen in the Arabic city. Again these aspects rang true and inspired me to transpose this text onto the stage.

I came across the text when working at the Royal Court in 2009. The theatre is very fond of Loher’s work but when it became clear that they will not be able to programme this piece I asked to obtain the rights and produced it independently. We developed the work in Berlin and premiered it at the Fringe Festival Edinburgh 2009, because we felt it was best to present it to an international audience.

Together with Claire Schirck and Lucy Ellinson I created a plastic, three dimensional, physical life for this lyrical piece. It is art installation and theatre play at once, the performer becomes part of the installation at times, and progessively the materials of the installation take over her body. The underlying dynamic of the text captivated us completely: An artists seeks to create real experiences through abstract work, then she is stalled because she has very abstract experiences in the face of real images.

As well as her artistic theories we visualised the artists expectations of the place, K., she visits, and the process of those expectations being broken down when she is experiencing war there. Back at home the material she brought back invariably mingle with her own—but the combination alters continously in her heart and mind and would not be suitable for a generalised presentation in art.

All she can do in the end is allow the uncomfortable nostalgia, bear the compassion and pain, but also, true to herself carry on being joyful in her own life. These processes are ongoing during my own travels and work in the Arab world.

Lydia Ziemke


Contextual Excerpts

Yes, you can analyse the situation in Afghanistan, you can make it comprehensible, you can hold on to facts and figures, but what lies beneath, that—in my experience—can hardly or can’t be conveyed: the pointlessness. I had feelings of Apathy, helplessness, of rage. But predominant was the feeling of the pointlessness of all human action, the pointlessness of life.
Writing means to be searching for connections, explanantions, hypotheses, sometimes to be seeking the truth that is lost, but this search is valuable when it bounces of reality and opens up space that only exists in language and can expand our reality. The Afghanistan experience was and is so radical for me because on the one hand the real reality was so overwhelming, that it seemed impossible for me to transform it into a piece of fictional literature—which would have been my job—, and on the other hand the pointlessness was so fundamental, that it destroyed any format of writing,—even the attempt‚ only to report. It is, and I can’t describe it otherwise, a pointlessness, that also penetrates words and renders them meaningless.
(from Dea Loher’s Acceptance Speech, Brecht Award 2006)


Our definition of beauty, then, is a certain type of emotional exaltation which is the result of stimulation by certain qualities common to all great works of art. To apply this definition to our notion of plasticity, we may say that the sum total of all plasticity in a painting must be the potentiality for the evocation of a sense of beauty. We have a variety of explanations for the origin and the nature of this abstraction. Psychologists say that beauty evokes a feeling of pleasure. This pleasure is closely connected with our infantile desire for security. Those forms or shapes which we associate with the satisfaction of this desire for security will forever give us that sense of complete satisfaction. In so far as the child’s original notions of security are connected with the form of his mother, the curves and tactile planes in the human body are the origin of this satisfaction. The artist draws on these areas of security when he depicts the human body. The love for these human shapes is then transferred to similar shapes in the world at large.
(From: Mark Rothko, The Artist’s Reality – Philosophies of Art)


Reviews (Edinburgh)

Land Without Words enjoyed critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009, capturing the attention of theatre critics and the BBC world service.

The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence 2009: Lucy Ellinson nominated for Best Solo Performance


“Lucy Ellinson delivers a superb performance as a shell-shocked artist in this ambitious play by German writer Dea Loher about contemporary war, creativity and perception. Impeccably staged, the set consists of a kind of operating table surrounded by little mounds of earth resembling buried landmines.

As soon as Ellinson emerges, her fragility and fierce concentration are gripping. David Tushingham’s translation of the text has knotted moments and some of the philosophising about art and painting is rather inchoate. But Ellinson’s vulnerability, her edginess, her sculptural lack of grace, make this a compelling experience.

Marrying aesthetic theory and dramatic action is a challenge, one this production does not quite carry off. Unlike Chekhov’s The Seagull, which integrates reflections on art into its dramatic fabric, here they come in long passages that cause one’s attention to drift. Only Ellinson with her beaky expression, her washed-out blonde hair, her almost emaciated body, manages to rescue the text from portentousness.

Innovatively directed, the piece has some unforgettable moments. A lump of clay becomes a face mask, soil is used to create the appearance of pregnancy—it drops to the floor like slowly falling rain. Ellinson sprawls on the table, hangs down from it, her body angular or distorted, doing wonders with a very difficult piece of writing.”

(William McEvoy, The Stage Newspaper / Must See, August 27, 2009)


“What happens when an artist comes face-to-face with war? If your vocation is to use paint to portray images, emotions or experiences, how do you deal with a reality so terrible you can find no way to express it?

This is the problem faced by the unnamed painter in Dea Loher's monologue, vividly brought to life by performance artist Lucy Ellinson, directed by Lydia Ziemke. Her struggle as an artist to express what lies beneath the surface of things began with the figure, then moved into abstraction. But after visiting the city she refers to only as 'K' (possibly Kabul), she becomes stuck and can no longer paint.

Witnessing at first hand scenes of unimaginable suffering—children scooping water from the gutters with their hands, beggars with burned faces—she realises she is in a land without words, a place where she can find no means of expression for what she has seen. What purpose can art have in a place such as this?

Ellinson, an experimental theatre-maker who also has work at Forest Fringe, inhabits the brittle, impassioned character of the artist in a visceral, intense performance. She contorts her body, smears herself in clay, water, earth, as outward expressions of her internal struggle. In this place of artistic paralysis, her mood vacillates between resolute and despairing.

Loher’s stream-of-consciousness text sustains its audience despite exploring complex and frequently abstract ideas: how does an artist choose what is and is not art? Do artists seek a unique perspective which isolates them, or a universal one which connects? Is beauty the enemy because it is, ultimately, a lie?

Like the artist, all of us in the comfortable West are changed when we witness poverty and conflict—yet, also like her, we find in the developing world a vitality that is compelling.

Her artistic crisis is not comfortable to watch, and it gives no easy answers, but it does articulate some complex and vital questions about the relationship between art and life.”

(Susan Mansfield, The Scotsman / Hot Show!, 13 August 2009)


“In a serendipitously stony venue, Lucy Ellinson is taking audiences on a journey into the mind and soul of a Western artist’s creative and emotional response to Kabul. Requested to “paint something about the city”, the artist’s desire to get beneath the surface is rebuffed by a city where silent women are shrouded in blue and her own response leaves her creatively choked.

Written by German Dea Loher (and translated by David Tushingham) a multi award-winning German author, Land Without Words is a visceral response to a crucible of extreme human behaviour. Only her love of the paradoxical light in Mark Rothko’s late, black paintings eventually illuminates the artist’s journey towards to articulation of the contradictory events she has witnessed their hold on her.

If sheer commitment were a measure of appeal, Ellinson’s performance would be flawless. Occasionally, however, the unrelieved tension and extravagance of the delivery sometimes flattens the nuances of a very dense play. Land Without Words is not a barrel of laughs and no questions are answered. It may not appeal to all tastes, but it’s definitely worth considering for those who like a weighty work and a mighty performance.”

(JM Nossal, Whats on Stage, August 16, 2009)


“Lucy Ellinson performs wonders in this UK premiere of David Tushingham’s translation of Dea Loher’s text. I use the word ‘performs’ lightly, as Ms. Ellinson offers more of an existence; she lives for us onstage. Her inhabitation of Loher’s troubled artist (tormented almost beyond sanity in the mystical, war-torn land of ‘K’) with all its attendant degradations of the body and soul, is a pleasure of the most perverted kind. Somehow, her spare, despairing physicality perfectly articulates her character’s crisis of craft and morality. Rarely can an actress have given so freely of herself in pursuit of art on the Edinburgh stage. For art is genuinely what this is: passionate, uncompromising and utterly profound. For the love of God, go.”

(tw, Three Weeks, 16.8.09)


Music OMH ***

Lucy Ellison in Land Without Words
performed by Lucy Ellinson
directed by Lydia Ziemke

It is Lucy Ellinson’s totally exposing performance that makes Land Without Words so visceral a piece of theatre.

German playwright Dea Loher’s monologue is an intentionally challenging and sometimes impenetrable piece. An unnamed artist, a painter, describes her experiences visiting a war-scarred city.

The city is referred to throughout only as K, from which the audience infer Kabul, Afghanistan, a place Loher herself has visited, writing this play in response to what she saw there.

The response of the artist to war and its consequences is in fact the key question here. What role can art play in such a situation? Having witnessed scenes of utter desperation, of starving and suffering, of human beings reduced to scrabbling on the ground like animals—for a few drops of water or a few scraps of food—having seen children tearing money from a beggar woman’s hands or shrouding their burnt faces and their gaping toothless mouths, what can possibly be done from the artist’s perspective, what more can be said. She cannot move, she becomes a statue, unable to paint.

Ellinson, sitting astride a wooden platform, bare-chested and anxious eyed, interrogates herself. Her flow of words loops in nervous circles as she splits herself down the middle, emptying herself, rejecting her past aesthetic principles, and reassessing everything she understands art to be. She makes repeated reference to an artist referred to only as Him, whom the audience come to understand as Mark Rothko from the details she supplies. As she speaks, Ellinson moulds a piece of clay in her hands before placing it over her face. When the mask falls away she is a walking ghost, her eyelashes clogged with grey. She smears dirt across her body and tips water onto her head, leaving her skin soaked, her hair dripping and dark. She hunches and writhes, an animal trapped—and all the time her eyes radiate pain and confusion, a loss of self. This all plays out against the raw brick walls of The Caves, perhaps the perfect Fringe venue for such a piece. This is not an easy piece. It’s both heavily stylised and unrelentingly intense and sometimes it feels excessive and indulgent; after all it’s one of the luxuries of those living securely and comfortably in the West to be able to devote time and energy to such agonising. But it also captures the dilemma of the true artist, of the person who knows no other way to live, and Ellison’s searing, open performance is never less than compelling.


“The pain has got to be there; I’m not interested in provocation.” Well, that pain certainly makes its presence known in Dan Loher’s tortured meditation on aesthetics, delivered here with extraordinary force of feeling by Lucy Ellinson.

An unnamed artist alone in her studio questions the purpose and possibility of art. In the wake of a recent visit to K, a far off war-torn city, her practice has suffered paralysis. She knows that art has a place in a world of such possible devastations, but only insofar as it can truly pertain to them. Not beauty for beauty’s sake, then, but revelation, rumination and reality; not Georgia O’Keefe’s Petunia (“a supermodel image of life”), but her Ram’s Skull. Attempting to paint her experiences, the artist is confronted by the ineffability of the horrors she has witnessed. Sure, she can capture the image of K, but how can she make manifest its essence? “Fear is white,” she blasts, “I can’t find the white.”

Lucy Ellinson is a phenomenon. She tears the text open as if ripping off a scab to re-expose a wound. Words clacker from her mouth with the rhythm of a typewriter, then stop; suspended mid-epiphany. Every choice she makes is elevated with detail and curiosity. When she takes off her top, for example, she doesn’t simply remove it, but trails it slowly over her face to catch its contours. Momentarily, its stretched hollows form the agonised skull of “The Scream” by Edward Munch.

In fact, Munch’s icon recurs throughout: first as her clenched claws prize open her face, then in the clay mask moulded over her features, pierced by her tongue. Is it a silent scream of horrors witnessed or of frustrations felt? Such details are testimony to the density of Lydia Ziemke’s direction, which must also take credit for the various masks that materialize on Ellinson’s face. As the clay dries, there appears a layer of ash and, later still, the pure white of Pierrot make-up, gradually cracking. When she eventually washes the dirt away, the clay seems to become mascara streaking down her cheeks. Lest all this sound biased towards the cerebral, the combination of Loher’s (slightly over-wrung) text and Ellinson’s total embodiment packs an emotional punch. The artist’s pain translates into a heavy-hanging pathos and there is a humour peppered throughout, albeit so born of distress that laughter seems unthinkable.

As a whole, Land Without Words is perfectly knitted together, permanently and wholeheartedly in tune with the aesthetic principles extolled by its protagonist: bodily over beauty. The result is a gripping piece of performance that leaves behind thumping and insoluble conundrums, both ethical and aesthetical.

(Matt Trueman, Culture Wars, Tuesday 18 August 2009)


Brief Encounter With … Land Without Words’ Lucy Ellinson

Lucy Ellinson is performing the one-woman show Land Without Words. The poetic realist play is based on the true experiences of one of Germany’s greatest living playwrights, Dea Loher, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Lucy is also presenting her own show at the Forest Fringe.

Tell us about your character in Land Without Words.
The ‘voice’ in the play is struggling to find the words that could truthfully communicate her experiences and feelings about working and living in Kabul. She decides to take on the role of a painter, hoping that this ‘role’ will provide the language she needs to express herself and make sense of her experience. She says ‘painter’, but it could be a writer, actor, sculptor. It’s an open window and the audience are invited to imagine themselves in—in this way. It feels like a mutual investigation as to whether these experiences can have a place in art at all.

How did you get into the mindset of a woman confronted with the terrible suffering in Afghanistan?
It’s all in the text. The play is the mindset. Dea Loher (the playwright) visited Kabul in 2005 and worked there with writers. She wrote a particularly eloquent speech about her experiences, which I have found very useful, it fits with many people who I’ve spoken to and their recollections, soldiers, journalists. That life there—just isn’t. That the only sense is senselessness. And even death is just another nothing. The voice in the play talks about dealing with the immediate experiences in Afghanistan but also with getting on with her life at the same time without despairing—and to some extent, maybe we can all relate to that initiative.

How does the experience of the Fringe as a ’straight actress’ compare with your experiences as an experimental performance artist performing your own work at Forest Fringe?
I don’t think this piece is a ’straight’ play. Well, there’s the text, which has been shaped by Lydia Ziemke, the director, into an intriguing piece of live performance, which demands a lot from me as a performer, a big teeth-into challenge. I think you need an extra couple of layers of skin to deal with the main Fringe. That’s not a comment about reviews, but about the machine… It seems to be such an endurance test for everyone involved.
My experiences at Forest Fringe have been about sharing ideas, new ones, oddly beautiful ones… and audiences, because they can experiment more (as tickets are free), come to hold those ideas in their hands for a bit and give them a squeeze. It’s a space where you take part in a really interesting conversation with your audience and other artists—rather than shouting in the dark and then spending the 7.5 minutes where you could usefully get feedback, frantically doing your get-out. I’d like to see that sort of spirit return to the Fringe. Otherwise, what are we doing?

What’s your most memorable moment on the Fringe so far?
A memorable moment was when performing Homemade by Chris Goode with Sébastien Lawson and Jamie Wood. It was a lovely intimate piece of performance created within people’s homes and in the last—very delicate scene, with two of us sat on a bed, the thing’s structure inexplicably broke and down we tumbled. You could almost hear the word ‘DEPOSIT!’ just by the 14 people thinking it loudly. Other memorable moments are watching Paper Cinema at Forest Fringe last year and being allowed in, after much waiting for returns to see England by Tim Crouch.

August 23, 2009


“Lucy Ellinson delivers a superb performance as a shell-shocked artist in this ambitious play by German writer Dea Loher about contemporary war, creativity and perception. Impeccably staged and Innovatively directed, the piece has some unforgettable moments.”
(The Stage)


“Lucy Ellinson was extraordinary. In fact don’t think I’ve seen a more committed or honest performance.”
(Lyn Gardner, The Guardian)


“Dea Loher’s monologue is vividly brought to life by performance artist Lucy Ellinson, directed by Lydia Ziemke. She inhabits the brittle, impassioned character of the artist in a visceral, intense performance. (…) Loher’s stream-of-consciousness text sustains its audience despite exploring complex and frequently abstract ideas. (…) Her artistic crisis is not comfortable to watch, and it gives no easy answers, but it does articulate some complex and vital questions about the relationship between art and life.”
(The Scotsman)


“One of the best performers of her generation… she’s one of those rare talents you’d pay £20 to see reading the phone book… Unmissable.”
(Time Out)


“ ʻLand Without Words’ is perfectly knitted together, permanently and wholeheartedly in tune with the aesthetic principles extolled by its protagonist: bodily over beauty. The result is a gripping piece of performance that leaves behind thumping and insoluble conundrums, both ethical and aesthetical.”
(Culture Wars)


“… a mighty performance”
(What’s on Stage)


“Passionate, uncompromising and utterly profound. For the love of God, go.”
(Three Weeks)


“It is Lucy Ellinson’s totally exposing performance that makes Land Without Words so visceral a piece of theatre.”
(Music OMH)


“bravely performed, imaginatively staged and the writing delves deep into the heart of the meaning of Art.”
(Fringe Review)


Reviews (Strasbourg)

« Un incroyable solo où une auteure, face à une situation de guerre, cherche comment exprimer ce à quoi elle est confrontée. (...) Intense, habitée, la partition jouée par Lucy Ellinson résonne en nous longtemps après le clap de fin »
(Thomas Flagel, Poly magazine culturel n°133, May/June 2010)


« La mise en scène de Lydia Ziemke de Land Without Words témoigne d’un incroyable humanisme. Dans un puissant monologue, la performer Lucy Ellinson n’hésite pas à se dévoiler et s’oublier elle-même. De manière nouvelle, formes et fonds s’entremêlent ingénieusement. […] Entre présence charnelle, violence des mots et art sculptural, elle nous fait partager sa recherche de la perfection esthétique. »
(Laura Adolphe, Mouvement, 8th June 2010)


« C’est de Londres que nous vient ce fort travail, qui file reflexion remarquablement incarnée par la comédienne Lucy Ellinson, sur le sens de l’action artistique – peinture, écriture, puissance et impuissance de l’une et l’autre… – quand elle est provoquée à témoigner de l’état de guerre contemporain. »
(Antoine Wicker, Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, 6th June 2010)


»Es ist ein ›Kriegsbericht‹, der an die Nieren geht und das nicht zuletzt aufgrund der hervorragenden schauspielerischen Leistung von Lucy Ellinson, die überzeugend ihre Machtlosigkeit und die emotionale Achterbahnfahrt während des Aufenthalts in Kabul darzustellen weiß […]. Nach diesem Stück bleibt keine Chance in ein wohliges, bürgerliches Kunstverständnis zurückzukehren und so zu tun, als ob Gewalt, Elend und Hass keine Denkkategorien mehr für uns seien.«
(Michaela Preiner, European Cultural News, 4th June 2010)


MESS International Theater Festival Sarajevo, October 2010

Robert Wilsons magisches Theater

Wilsons Krapp zeigt uns in unserer Einsamkeit, er ist die Personifikation aller unserer Verwirrungen und vergeblichen Versuche, die Zeit und uns selbst in dieser Zeit zu überlisten, uns über unser sinnlos verbrachtes Leben hinwegzutäuschen.

Die letzte Woche des gefeierten 50. Mess Festivals schien sich an das ursprüngliche Konzept dieses Festivals anzulehnen, das dem Festival seit Beginn zu Eigen ist. Gastiert haben Vorstellungen, die in kleinen Off-Theatern entstanden sind. Ein wichtiges Merkmal der Inszenierungen waren die Spurensuche, der Geist der Entdeckung, die Neigung zum Experiment – nicht aber um des Experimentes Willens, einer zwanghaften Exklusivität, Mode oder um jeden Preis gewünschten Modernität – ganz im Gegenteil, alle vorgestellten Projekte trugen diese Experimentierfreude in sich, nicht um sich vom „Mainstream-Repertoiretheater“ zu unterscheiden, oder von dem, was wir „gewöhnliche Theaterpraxis“ nennen, sondern, um die ausgesuchten Stücke auf eine neue Art zu zeigen. Es waren vor allem ernsthafte, tief und sehr sorgsam ausgearbeitete theatrale Versuche, die zum Ziel hatten, die Stücke in einem neuen Licht zu zeigen, aus einer anderen Perspektive, vielleicht auch auf ganz verrenkte, ungewöhnliche Art und Weise, so wie die Reflexion eines Zerrspiegels, und das alles, damit man diese Stücke auf komplexere Art lesen, nach einem neuen Schlüssel betrachten und durchdenken und somit die verborgenen Bedeutungen, Schichten und den Sinn entdecken kann. Und diese Praxis war die ursprüngliche Idee des MESS, auf diesem Stein wurde es gegründet, ihm verdankt es seine Langlebigkeit, nach diesem Prinzip wird es auch heute kuratiert und ausgerichtet.

Land Without Words

Ein Beispiel für dieses Theaterverständnis ist auf jeden Fall der Auftritt der Künstlergruppe „suite 42“ aus Großbritannien. Das Stück heißt „Land Without Words“, die Autorin ist die europaweit und international bekannte Schriftstellerin Dea Loher, die Regisseurin Lydia Ziemke. Die Inszenierung fußt auf einem sehr poetischen, vielschichtigem und schwelgerischem, gleichzeitig aber kraftvollem und tiefgründigem Text der Autorin. Dea Loher, 1964 in Bayern geboren, gehört ohne Zweifel mit an die Spitze der deutschen dramatischen Literatur. Ihr Stil wird charakterisiert durch ein raffiniertes, feines Gefühl dafür, Unaussprechliches auf dramatische Art darzustellen, Vorahnungen, Dinge, die sich in Wirklichkeit in der Welt um uns herum und in uns befinden, aber unter einer Oberfläche auf der wir uns im Alltag bewegen und an der wir nur manchmal, vielleicht sogar nur unbewusst, schürfen.

„Land Without Words“ führt uns in diese Welt unter der Oberfläche. Diese ist wie ein Bernsteintropfen, ein wertvolles Stück erhärteten, durchsichtigen Harzes in welchem wir Formen schimmern sehen, Figuren oder Körper, wie kleine Insekten die vor langer Zeit auf einer Baumrinde gefangen wurden, versklavt im flüssigen Bernstein im Augenblick des Todes – wir können die Stellung der Körper im Moment der Versteinerung beobachten, sogar das Drama ihrer Agonie fast erahnen – aber es ist schwierig zu verstehen, was da unter der Oberfläche tatsächlich geschehen ist, was dem vorausgegangen ist, warum geschehen ist, was wir sehen. So versucht auch die Heldin, meisterhaft gespielt von der Britin Lucy Ellinson, mittels ihres Spiels zu uns vorzudringen, um uns ihre Geschichte, ihr Innerstes, ihre Träume und Gedanken, ihr Erleben der Welt preiszugeben, um uns so in ihre Beklommenheit zu ziehen.

Die junge deutsche Regisseurin Lydia Ziemke sieht das Theater auch als Ort unserer eigenen möglichen Verwandlung: „Wenn Sie ins Theater gehen, sich eine Vorstellung ansehen und danach gehen, sollte sich etwas in Ihnen verändert haben. Wir zeigen Ihnen im Theater keine schönen Dinge, keine falsche, bunte Realität, Zierknöpfchen und bunte Perlen – wir wollen Sie provozieren, tief berühren, erschüttern – auf dass Sie sich darüber bewusst werden, dass es doch noch Güte auf der Welt gibt, das Sie sich dieser Güte bewusst werden und dass Ihnen dieses Bewusstsein die Kraft gibt, wenigstens ein bisschen, wenigstens etwas in Ihrem alltäglichen Leben zu verändern.“

Mladen Bičanić


Theatre Royal Bath – Ustinov Studio

Throughout history the horrors of war have always provided a canvas upon which artists can express their most stark and startling images and German writer Dea Loher’s monologue tells of the experiences of a painter/sculptor in a Middle Eastern city named only as K—but surely the Afghanistan capital Kabul.

In a remarkable performance of raw physical and emotional power Lucy Ellinson, under the intense direction of Lydia Ziemke, reproduces the "open shame" of an artist desperately trying to create works which do justice to her emotions and speak for the tragic victims she meets. In just 45 minutes of fevered action and biting words she is able to convey as much of the pain of conflict as any amount of TV news footage. She smears herself with dirt, douses herself with water and makes a face mask of clay in an attempt to convey the ever-present filth, searing heat and blinding light in which this modern war is waged. On her journey she encounters children fighting to quench their thirst with contaminated water, a disfigured beggar girl desperate with hunger and an woman writer who speaks only when told to by men.

Loher draws heavily from the influence of the Russian-born American abstract impressionist Mark Rothko who committed suicide in 1970 and whose work often consisted of the darker colours. What cannot be supplied, of course, are answers. The frustrated artist can only admit "I am stuck and I must go back". LWW, which was well received in Edinburgh 2009, continues today at the Ustinov.

(Alan King, Evening Post, Fri 24. September)


Festival Premières Strasbourg, June 2010

« Un incroyable solo où une auteure, face à une situation de guerre, cherche comment exprimer ce à quoi elle est confrontée. (...) Intense, habitée, la partition jouée par Lucy Ellinson résonne en nous longtemps après le clap de fin. »
(Thomas Flagel, Poly magazine culturel n°133, May/June 2010)


« La mise en scène de Lydia Ziemke de Land Without Words témoigne d’un incroyable humanisme. Dans un puissant monologue, la performer Lucy Ellinson n’hésite pas à se dévoiler et s’oublier elle-même. De manière nouvelle, formes et fonds s’entremêlent ingénieusement. (...) Entre présence charnelle, violence des mots et art sculptural, elle nous fait partager sa recherche de la perfection esthétique. »
(Laura Adolphe, Mouvement, 8th June 2010)


« C’est de Londres que nous vient ce fort travail, qui file reflexion remarquablement incarnée par la comédienne Lucy Ellinson, sur le sens de l’action artistique – peinture, écriture, puissance et impuissance de l’une et l’autre… – quand elle est provoquée à témoigner de l’état de guerre contemporain. »
(Antoine Wicker, Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, 6th June 2010)


Die Schriftstellerin Dea Loher unternahm im Jahr 2005 eine Reise durch Afghanistan und verarbeitete ihre Erfahrungen und Eindrücke in dem Werk »Land ohne Worte«, im Englischen »Land Without Words«. Anlässlich des »Festival Premières« brachte die deutsche Regisseurin Lydia Ziemke dieses Stück auf die Bühne des TNS in Strasbourg.

Der Monolog gewährt uns Einblick in den emotionalen Zustand und die psychologisch, therapeutische Aufarbeitung dieser Reise. Es ist ein „Kriegsbericht“, der an die Nieren geht und das nicht zuletzt aufgrund der hervorragenden schauspielerischen Leistung von Lucy Ellinson, die überzeugend ihre Machtlosigkeit und die emotionale Achterbahnfahrt während des Aufenthalts in Kabul darzustellen weiß.

Das Stück beginnt eigentlich mit dem Eingeständnis der absoluten Sprachlosigkeit anlässlich der Gräueltaten und der Entsetzlichkeiten, derer sich Loher ausgesetzt sah. Das schlichte Bühnenbild, welches in keiner Weise Bezüge zu Afghanistan oder Kabul zeigte, machte deutlich, dass es hier nicht nur die Erlebnisse der Schriftstellerin in Afghanistan angesprochen werden sollen, sondern vielmehr die Position von Künstlerinnen und Künstlern während eines Krieges, wo auch immer er stattfindet. Welche Ausdrucks- und Darstellungsmöglichkeiten bleiben noch, wenn man vor Schaudern, Elend, Angst und Grausamkeit sprachlos ist? Wann ist es einem subjektiv nicht mehr möglich, Kunst in welcher Art und Weise auch immer zu produzieren, da der tägliche Kampf ums Überleben zu übermächtig wird und die psychische Belastung nicht mehr zu ertragen ist? Dea Loher lässt ihre Figur als Malerin nach Afghanistan reisen. Als Malerin, die nach ihrem eigenen Gefühl vor ihrem Kriegstrauma alles malen hätte können, was mit Farbe auszudrücken ist. Diese Malerin ringt und kämpft mit ihren Impressionen und es fällt ihr äußerst schwer, diese Emotionen auf eine Leinwand zu bringen. Doch angesichts des Krieges bleibt ihre Palette nur mehr braun und schwarz – das einst so strahlende Weiß ist darauf nicht mehr zu finden. Immer wieder monologisiert sie über Kunsttheorie, um zugleich auch die Verzweiflung und die Abgründe, die sich in ihrem Inneren und auch in ihren Erlebnissen in Kabul aufgetan haben, offenzulegen. Bis zum Schluss zweifelt sie an den Möglichkeiten der Kunst, ja hadert mit ihr, da die Malerei ihrer Meinung nach tatsächlich nicht fähig ist, sich dem Schmerz, der Gewalt und dem Elend auch nur zu nähern.

Ellinson schafft es, durch die stringente Regie von Lydia Ziemke, bei den Besucherinnen und Besuchern Betroffenheit und auch Nachdenklichkeit auszulösen. Wie sich ihre zu Beginn so makellos weiß entblößte Brust bis zum Schluss hin mit Resten von schwarzer Erde verklebt, erzeugt eine extrem anschauliche Metapher, die bildlich macht, wie sehr Terror einen Menschen entstellt. Die in dunkles Licht getauchte Bühne, beherbergt nur einen schmalen, hohen Tisch, der fast an eine Werkbank erinnert, welcher der Protagonistin auch als Bett dient. Nichts in ihrem persönlichen Umfeld strahlt mehr Wärme und Geborgenheit aus, alles Menschliche ist darin verschwunden. Lohers Text bewirkt, dass man, angesichts solcher Eindrücke, in den herkömmlichen Kategorien über Kunst und deren Wirkung anders nachdenken muss, ja dass man förmlich danach gezwungen ist, sich sowohl über die Kunst als auch deren Produktion und Rezeption ein völlig neues oder zumindest modifiziertes Gedankengebäude zurecht zu legen.

Nach diesem Stück bleibt keine Chance in ein wohliges, bürgerliches Kunstverständnis zurückzukehren und so zu tun, als ob Gewalt, Elend und Hass keine Denkkategorien für uns mehr seien. Wir müssen akzeptieren und hinnehmen, dass außerhalb der Grenzen Europas, Elend und Krieg immer noch an der Tagesordnung ist und Kunst – zumindest für die Autorin und die Regisseurin – in diesem Umfeld keinen Platz findet. Das Stück endet kein bisschen versöhnlich, was gut ist.

Eine sperrige, aber zugleich packende Arbeit, die es verdient, auf vielen Bühnen gezeigt und gespielt zu werden. Vielleicht sogar in Afghanistan, wenn statt Krieg Kunst in diesem Land wieder Einzug halten kann.

Michaela Preiner, 05 Juni 2010, Festival Premières

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Fokus Syrien, 9–12. Mai 2014 / Foto: Kostis Kallivretakis