Pension Europa,

Wonderville, London
Director: Martin Gruber

Cast: Michaela Bilgeri, Aisha Eisa, Isabella Jeschke, Kirstin Schwab, Tamara Stern, Benjamin Vanyek
Running time: 70 minutes
Aug 3-4 and touring


Austrian-Italian director Martin Gruber and his aktionstheater ensemble have for decades helped audiences to explore what it is to be a human wrestling with the anxieties of the day.

For those still lamenting Brexit and in pursuit of a less mainstream evening than The Phantom of the Opera along the road, the ensemble brought to Wonderville in London’s Haymarket an English language world premiere of Gruber’s brand of theatrical therapy.

Clad in little more than underwear, a cast emotionally laid bare sweeps through issues ranging from war in Ukraine to female circumcision to cinematic dubbing to love handles, or side fat sausages, as they tell us in “bad English”, which, as opposed to English, is the international language, we’re told.

Tensions reach a pitch when Tamara from Tel Aviv makes a tiny grammatical error in German, a point relentlessly laboured by Michaela from Austria as the one advantage she has over Tamara now she has lost her place on the “meeting women’s regular table”, as Tamara ruthlessly declaims.

We don’t have to be familiar with the forum to realise it is central to Michaela’s identity.

The other emotional climaxes are Kirstin’s and Isabella’s “prepared pieces”.

Kirstin wraps herself in barbed wire, but finds, as a western European, she is still not suffering enough and equally is not attracting as much help as the poor emaciated Russian artist she saw doing the same.

Isabella meanwhile burns an enormous imaginary pile of money, whereas Michaela imagines it being eaten and excreted and the desperate then rescuing any coins that have survived the digestive process.

If that’s all too scatological or perhaps Freudian, Isabella brings it all to a pure close that circles back to the beginning when she declares her love of rain “especially in England”.

It’s a glancing reference to the climate – the one huge issue of our day that this dive into the human condition does not explore.

The net result is an acquired taste and would surely bewilder those who come to the Haymarket for Andrew Lloyd Webber.

For the more adventurous, it’s a dose of therapy in the best Austrian tradition.

Barbara Lewis © 2023.