The adaptation of 'Mephisto', which had its premiere tonight at the Leidse Schouwburg, made for a thoughtful theatre experience held together by a great group of actors. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, the key to this play is Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, aimed at distancing rather than involving the audience.
Based on the controversial novel by Klaus Mann (also made into a famous film), the story follows the stellar career of actor Hendrik Höfgen (played by Huub Stapel) during the rise of National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s. Made famous by his role as Mephistopheles in Goethe's 'Faust', Höfgen faces increasingly difficult moral choices in a society infected by prejudice and hate. The question is, of course, has he sold his soul to the devil?
With each of the seven actors playing several different roles, an intervening narrator and frequent play-within-play sequences and references, it all makes for very Brechtian 'theatre of alienation'. The point or punch is more dialectic than emotional, designed for discussion rather than identification.
To the credit of the actors, the play still has some powerful scenes (especially in the second half) and an uncomfortable atmosphere of impending doom pervading the action.