Virtual Reality: “The Wall” as a VR production at the Essen – Kultur theater

Virtual Reality: “The Wall” as a VR production at the Essen – Kultur theater

Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 “The Wall” is a great book. Dystopian, very disturbing, and yet full of loving reflections on life, the Nature. That has to be emphasized first, because the novel falls into the unfortunate category of “actually belongs in the canon of German-language literature, but far too few people know it”. So first of all, thanks to the Essen theater, which made a virtual reality production out of it.

“The Wall” is ideal for the solo experience of VR theater, because with VR glasses at home you are just as isolated from the world as the woman in the story. She is going to a holiday home with friends forest, they go to the village in the evening and do not return. As the woman sets out to search, she suddenly encounters a “smooth, cool resistance in a place where nothing could have been but air.” From now on it is there, the wall. The woman never finds out what happened to the rest of humanity. Whether she is chosen because she is alive or damned because she is alive is a matter of opinion.

Is it a dystopia to be the last man? Or is it a utopia?

Haushofer plays with the idea, similar to Guido Morselli in his novel “Dissipatio humani generis”, which is also well worth reading. In it, humanity disappears overnight except for one survivor. While Morselli’s husband flees into philosophical explanatory constructs, Haushofer’s wife saves herself in pragmatism. Her fear of going insane gives way to her survival instinct: she grows potatoes, shoots deer, pulls out a bad tooth. Only a dog and a cow are with her. She hardly mourns her former life, but surrenders more and more to nature, which continues to proliferate undeterred. This is not romanticizing nature writing, nor is it escapism, the scenario is too threatening, the struggle for survival too real.

One can ask whether Haushofer is about a dystopia, which tells of the end of mankind after a possibly man-made catastrophe, or whether it is a self-imposed isolation, the failed attempt to connect with others. Maybe it is also a utopia in which nature regains control over the earth? Haushofer doesn’t answer that, but reflects on social constructs like Christmas, which is inevitably associated with snow-covered fir trees, and what happens to man-made categories like time: “But if time only exists in my head and I am the last man am, it will end with my death,” says the woman, “the thought makes me cheerful.”

More and more women and homes are being swallowed up by nature

The director Thomas Krupka has now created a true virtual reality theater marvel with the VR artist Tobias Bieseke and built an impressive backdrop for it. The setting is slightly hipstered, the woman lives in a chic tiny house instead of in a gloomy forest cottage, equipped with all sorts of bells and whistles, a boulder wall, a smart home system, all suitable for Instagram. A huge glass front gives a clear view of the forest, for a vacationer this closeness to nature is refreshing, for the survivor a glass front is suddenly useless, even threatening.

Even if dosed much more sparingly than in the novel, this production allows time and again to pause, to marvel at nature, to live the unconditional, almost touching will of things. In this production, woman and house are more and more swallowed up by nature until all boundaries become blurred. In the book, on the other hand, the woman remains a human being to the end, reflecting on her role in nature and living according to her rules, but not disappearing into it. She makes peace with her situation in one way or another.

As a spectator you sit right in the middle, in or in front of the house and can follow the story in 360 degrees. The woman’s voice (Floriane Kleinpass) sounds worried all the time, she whispers, but never panics. The effect is oppressive: you feel imprisoned in this place and in the psyche of the woman, you are almost uncomfortably close to her. But you also experience the change of seasons, the rain, the snow, and if you lift your head you can see the starry sky.

If anyone is still asking what you need VR theater for: exactly for that.

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