‘I went to the house but did not enter’: poetry in slow motion

Oh, how I love it when art succeeds in easing those raging storms inside your head. Just by being art. By being beautiful. Forgive me for my poetic mood, but it’s all due to that wonderful evening I spent in deSingel (Antwerp), yesterday, in the presence of the exquisite Hilliard Ensemble, singing and acting in I went to the house but did not enter, ‘a staged concert in three tableaux’, created by German composer and theatre director Heiner Goebbels.

I’ve been writing, in the past couple of weeks, about the difficulties of putting a music theatre-production to the stage. About how difficult it is to get that balance right, using all these different elements. Yesterday, there was nothing left but to revel in the craftmanship of Mr. Goebbels. He got it all right: the music, the acting, the lighting and that decor. Poetry in motion. It’s a horrible cliché, I know, but that’s what it was. Although poetry in slow motion might be a better phrase, for this piece.

I went to the house but did not enter (which premiered at the Edinburgh Internation Festival in August 2008) is made up of four scenes, based on texts by TS Eliot (The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock), Maurice Blanchot (La folie du jour), Franz Kafka (Der Ausflug ins Gebirge) and Samuel Beckett (Worstward ho). These slightly confusing, indecipherable texts help Goebbels (who wrote all the music for this production) in accomplishing what he wants, which is to have actors on the stage playing their parts, but never really becoming a ‘persona’. And yes, those four a capella singing men of that excellent Hilliard Ensemble draw you in, but they keep you at a distance as well. Yes: I went to the house but did not enter. Clever, but slightly puzzling too.

‘It’s a work that challenges on many levels, including that of finding words to account for its peculiar power’, one critic wrote. I couldn’t have phrased it in a better way. I went to the house is funny – in that first scene it’s almost as if you have four Jacques Tati‘s on scene: slowly taking away all the elements in a room and then putting them back again – and pleasing, but surreal and indecipherable too. 

What I particularly liked was Mr. Goebbels care for details. Every single one counts. Take for instance the lighting and the sounds in that second tableau, of four men living in that same little house. The cars passing by. The dog barking. Add to that the fact that Goebbels is not afraid of dismantling his own magic. In between the acts, you see technicians changing the decor. You see them taking down a house and rolling another one in. The dream Mr. Goebbels creates is deconstructed and reassembled in front of your eyes. You know it’s all fake, but nevertheless you get carried away by it.

And, oh, that last tiny little detail: after having watched a series of slides on the wall of that hotel room, you suddenly notice that the water on the last slide starts flowing. It’s impossible, but nevertheless, it happens.

For more info on Heiner Goebbels, check his site. It has lots of interviews and reviews.

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2 Responses to “‘I went to the house but did not enter’: poetry in slow motion”

  1. Thanks for this nice review! 🙂

  2. Fiona Sandilands Says:

    I thought it was absolutely wonderful, had me in tears – struck the parts that were normally inaccessib le to me.

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