At least since the death of the famous head of the house 66 years ago, there have been a lot of ghosts in the Berliner Ensemble. After the death of Bertolt Brecht, the BE was always both: more or less vital theatre and a place of pilgrimage for the Brecht community (and as such a tourist attraction completely independent of what is currently happening on the stage). Since then, every director has had to master the balancing act of shining with the Brecht legends without being overwhelmed by the historical ballast.
Oliver Reese, the current director, does it quite cleverly, with the right mix of historical awareness and irony. Barrie Kosky's "The Threepenny Opera" for example, fortunately there was no private lesson in political economy, but pure musical entertainment. Last season, a claustrophobic production tackled the unfortunate Brecht lover Ruth Berlau with the help of VR glasses. And now the wonderful puppeteer, puppet maker, director and author Suse Wächter, who cannot be praised enough anyway, undertakes a rather funny exorcism on the big stage. The evening is called "Brecht's Ghosts", but in addition to the Brecht puppet, which croaks exactly like on old records, half the intellectual world of recent history has its brief appearances in the form of quirky, beautifully idiosyncratic hand puppets: from Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud to Schrödinger's cat and the shaggy Marxist Slavoj Žižek.
Karl Marx is arm wrestling with God here, Marilyn Monroe is hanging out in the corner
Only Žižek's great hero Lenin, thank God, is spared resurrection. He is allowed to lie there as a puppet's corpse, as if the stage were his mausoleum. On the proscenium, the puppets dangle from a scaffolding like in the archive of world history. A few colleagues who aren't on duty today, Marilyn Monroe or Albert Einstein, for example, are hanging out in the background, leftovers from an earlier work by Suse Wächter, her big evening about the "heroes of the 20th century". With the help of two puppeteers (the director and Hans-Jochen Menzel) and the two formidable live musicians Martin Klingeberg and Matthias Trippner, the other puppets tackle Brecht songs and the big questions of the world revolution.
Seven sad hand puppets are allowed to embody "the proletariat", but even the united front song cheerfully performed with tuba, percussion and electronic sounds cannot turn them into heroes of the class struggle. Instead, Maggie Thatcher, who has climbed out of her grave with a skull and crossbones and a moth-eaten shroud, loosely based on Goethe's sorcerer's apprentice, preaches her little lesson in neoliberalism: "Masses, masses, be it, there are only individuals!" Karl Marx is arm wrestling with God, two white old men with full beards and wild hair. So much for the state of post-ideological relaxation at the Berliner Ensemble.
For a nasty and very funny inside joke, one of the now forgotten greats of the GDR theater has to serve, the longtime BE director Manfred Wekwerth, who croaks something of Brecht's "V effect" with the righteous pedantry of the functionary and ZK member. Pavarotti belts out Brecht's "Children's Hymn", and Henry Ford, the old efficiency fanatic, calculates what the Brecht heirs earn per minute from a Brecht song. Because he doesn't really like the content of Brecht's agitprop edification aria on the "in praise of communism," the excess utopia is rationalized away until it becomes "in praise of capitalism": "It's simple, everyone understands it." Of course you can also see it that way. But thanks to Žižek and Bernd Stegemann, the Marxism-trained dramaturge of the production, there is some harshness between all the mockery for Brecht's class war calendar sayings towards the end, when the middle class in the form of German garden gnomes desperately kicks around to somehow find their way down the escalator Maintaining status and not slipping hopelessly.