GERMAN playwright Marius von Mayenburg is one of the most prolific of his generation, and his 2015 play Stuck Plastik makes its UK debut at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, opening the Spring German season and on stage until 25th March.
In its brilliant Maja Zade translation, and now called simply Plastic, it is a scintillating, hilarious and poignant insight into life in the early 21st century.
Disappointed doctor Michael and his wife Ulrike, personal assistant to a charismatic conceptual artist, live a minimalist existence in a city apartment, their lonely son Vincent barely acknowledged in the morass of their own self-indulgent stresses.
When Haulupa (the name the artist has taken for himself) calls round to “make art” in the flat, he meets their deadpan cleaner, Jessica, and hey presto, she becomes his muse, dethroning Ulrike.
Well, that’s the narrative version.
But Mayenburg’s play, like many of his other works, takes the scalpel to how we see ourselves and how we are observed by others.
It’s not the first time that conceptual art has provided a fulcrum for dramatic tension, but unlike the Yasmina Reza manifestation, here we see the artist and hear his pretentious but sometimes irresistible thoughts about himself and his work.
Steve John Shepherd’s Serge Haulupa is a dazzler, mad, sometimes bad and certainly dangerous to know. And it is against the messy and barmy world he creates in the name of art that Michael (the marvellously understated Jonathan Slinger) and Ulrike (the frantically frustrated Charlotte Randle) unravel their mutual misery, buoyed up by ideas of achieved status and superiority.
While his parents obsessively explore their own self-image, their son Vincent (Brenock O’Connor) has his own identity problems. His confusion finds some comfort with Jessica (Ria Zmitrowicz), whose own solution to the problem is as temporary as Serge’s overweeningly self-important whims.
It’s a stunning play, and one which should make its audience question the facile “truths” whose importance is inflated in this world of “reality”.
Photographs by Simon Annand