The Double-Bass

The Playhouse, 31 Albany Street, Dunedin North, Dunedin

05/08/2006 - 11/06/2006

Production Details

Written by Patrick Süskind
Translated by Martin Hoffman
Directed by Alexander Laube

The Double-Bass was first staged in Munich in 1981 and has since become one of the most performed plays in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It has also been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and at the National Theatre in London.

Performed by Armen Georgian

Theatre , Solo ,

Quirky play, consummate performance, exceptional theatre

Review by Terry MacTavish 07th Aug 2006

At last a chance to satisfy what is surely a universal ambition: to witness a man making passionate love to his double-bass. That shape and size, so suggestively female, undeniably seductive, if a trifle pear-shaped …

So trip the light fantastic down to the Playhouse, where you’ll find a quirky little one-man show, The Double-Bass by Patrick Süskind, directed by talented ex-patriot Alexander Laube. Laube is now domiciled in Lyon, France, where he is president of Flying Pig Theatre, which specialises in English language productions, but he has persuaded actor Armen Georgian to join him for a brief season in Dunedin.

Our gain. Georgian brings to whimsical life a melancholic musician who actually displays more malice than affection in his love/hate relationship with his double-bass, "a fat old woman… a pig of an instrument", which, as he reveals to his fascinated audience, is the great handicap in his social and romantic life. The last time he had sex, two years ago? "I hid it in the bathroom."

The poor fellow knows he can never aspire to fame performing on an instrument which gets no solos; he is doomed to be forever a back-row player in the state orchestra, seething with envy for the glamour of say, the violin, or even the timpani.

But the height of his jealous rage is reserved for the conductors and tenors who have the privilege of wining and dining – in "obsceeene!" $30-a-fish-dish restaurants – the true object of his lonely passion, a soprano called Sarah, who does not even know of his existence. As he fantasises about disrupting a performance by crying aloud the name of his inamorata, we find ourselves hoping he’ll put his audacious plan into action, and that maybe it will be crowned by success, so completely has Georgian won us over.

The play, which has been something of a surprise hit in Europe for over 25 years now, with 800 performances in Poland alone, is about more than the musician’s feelings for his instrument and his idol. It is the story of everyone who has ever felt trapped by early choices, even by the psychology of their parents, and by the temptations of security.

Our obsessive hero, who took up the double-bass to spite his domineering civil servant father and weak musical mother, is secure in his job for life and though, at 39, he can see his years slipping away, he seems unable to break out. It is easier to blame his unwieldy instrument, which dominates his sparsely-furnished but expensively-soundproofed room to the detriment of any potential erotic encounters.

The production is simply yet tastefully mounted, with particularly intriguing lighting reflecting the changing moods and bouncing iridescent colours off the shiny double-bass.

Actor Georgian, so at home in the role, gives a consummate performance. He eyeballs the audience trustingly and draws us inexorably into the musician’s more than slightly psychotic world.

Clever direction ensures his rubbery body, sometimes conveying the shape of the bass itself, fills the stage with energy and variety. He prepares for a performance of Wagner, gradually dressing in tails, at one point tripping over his omnipresent enemy ("I’ll get even with it one of these days! I’ll get it!") while simultaneously educating us with snatches of recorded music and his own wielding of the bow.

And yes, he demonstrates with frenzied passion how, should the delirious opportunity be offered, he would embrace and caress the desirable Sarah.

I seriously suggest Dunedinites likewise embrace this opportunity of seeing exceptional international theatre.  

See also Terry’s review of the now-finished ‘Western Panto’, In Cahoots with Johnny Sunrise, also at the Playhouse.


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