Max Black

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

21/03/2007 - 23/03/2007

Auckland Festival 2007

Production Details

Devised, directed and composed by Heiner Goebbels


European contemporary visual feast.

Devised by acclaimed German director and composer, Heiner Goebbels and starring celebrated European actor Andre Wilms as Max Black, this extraordinary visual theatre will captivate audiences at Auckland Festival, AK07. 

Mostly recently seen in Wellington in Eraritjaritjaka, in 2006, Andre Wilms returns as the old man, Max Black who talks to himself about problems of logic, while keeping himself busy in an extraordinary workroom of strange, beautiful and dangerous devices. He converts a man’s old bicycle into a bright fire wheel. He hunts mini rockets sputtering around the stage, small running fires hurtle past the stage and the office. Over his head, a stuffed bird is swinging in an illuminated aquarium.

This is outstanding contemporary experimental theatre which removes the boundaries between text, music, lighting and effects.

Reviews of other Goebbels works

‘There is something magical in the way Goebbels juxtaposes artificiality and reality in his meticulous plotting of the staging, lighting, music, text and video’.
The Independent

‘Goebbels’s music theatre is a world of literary allusion, knowing intellectualism and avant-garde glamour.’
The Guardian

Performed by Andre Wilms

Theatre , Solo ,

Measured chaos

Review by Nik Smythe 22nd Mar 2007

The wide open set of a dilapidated seventies inventor’s workshop, set all about with old and curious objects and instruments, evokes the insular world of the aging protagonist.  There are no set walls – the concrete theatre walls, the ropes of the fly rig and the backstage entrance are proudly visible.  Centre stage there is an old man at a desk, playing vocal sound bytes on an electronic keyboard and measuring the number of possible orders that each of the different numbered groups in the audience can arrange themselves in – e.g.  a group of five on five chairs = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 = 120 different seating variations.

Then the lights go down so the play can start.  If it sounds excessively convoluted and obsessed with details so far, then you’re getting the idea.  Veteran French actor André Wilms plays Max Black (1909 – 1988), a leading influence in analytic philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century among many other things.  The intention of this extraordinary production is clearly not to be a biographical narrative.  This is a deep character study, a pseudo-ethereal journey into the thought processes behind the actions of the man who developed such important theorems as "The Identity of Indiscernables", as well as a neat machine that blows smoke rings (the audience favourite), among other things.

We see Max at work ("I work to work"), searching for answers ("My nature detests what is vague!").  I enjoyed what I understood of his logistical ranting, like the problem of the barber who is to shave everyone in town who does not shave themselves, and no-one who does, which means he can’t shave himself nor get anyone to shave him, thus he is doomed to fail in his brief.  But there’s plenty to engage in even if I hadn’t understood a word of it (which would be much more literally the case were it not for the ingenious subtitles projected on the back wall, given the script is mainly French), because the truly lasting impressions are visual and sonic.

From Pierre-Alain Hubert’s numerous pyrotechnics – flames spinning on a turntable, exploding machines, etc – to the old single reel playback machine spilling tape on the floor as it plays out it’s dramatic symphony, the imagery is wondrous and intense in spite of it’s humble form.  When Max stands just behind and touching the large mesh curtain behind it’s desk, the animate light-play resembles an ultrasound scan. 

My favourite gadget is the spiky turning wheel on the end of the horizontal swinging pole, which plays the piano.  Thus, as our humble hero leaps about the stage lighting little flares, observing phenomena and demonstrating concepts, the visual brilliance of the set and lighting (which could as aptly be described as ‘shading’) of Klaus Grünberg is matched by and entwined in the outstanding sound design of Willi Bopp.

Throughout the one and a quarter hour piece, every sound is originated by the actor, either from playing an instrument, or sampling and looping incidental noises, or pushing play on a recording.  This serves to make the experience of meeting Max Black all the more earnest, excitable, knowing, personal.

Writer/composer/director Heiner Goebbels is carrying the baton for the Theatre of the Absurd – layers of Beckett in particular, being a study of the world of a solitary fellow, with intense ideas and rituals that, intriguing as they are, amount to very little to humanity at large.  He is a man driven to find answers, to explain phenomena, to track the course of existence, ostensibly because it is there. 

Wilms’ Max might have regarded this play as the inconsequential babblings of an obsessive compulsive, albeit fascinating, before getting to work on the variant probabilities contained therein.


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