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Critical Response: “Over There” by Mark Ravenhill

“Over There” by Mark Ravenhill is an incredibly well crafted portrayal of the conflict in Germany between native Berliners after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Twin brothers, separated by the wall for years, reunite and attempt to live together, learning that despite having blood, parents, and a cosmic connection all in common, they are incredibly different people who cannot begin to get along. This ultimately ends in the death of the Eastern Berlin brother at the hands of his West Berlin brother, who then consumes him. With condiments.

Franz, expertly played by Harry Treadaway, represents the West side of the wall: he is interested in the idea of a personal identity and the idea of being “unique” rather than a larger community or Socialist union. His brother, Karl, played by Harry Treadaway’s actual brother Luke Treadaway, represents the Eastern side of Berlin, wanting he and his brother to mirror of one another, have the same job, switch identities, raise Franz’s son to be a good worker and community member. This divide between brothers is indicative of the community in which they have been brought up, and the ways in which they judge one another for feeling they adversely reflects the conflict within Berlin itself after the wall fell. Although at first both of the brothers repeat the idea that they are one Germany, time passes and Karl’s desire for a larger community of socialist brothers remains, while Franz attempts to clean up the mess that is his socialist brother, at a point taking a mop and sponge, as well as towelettes to clean him up.

Speaking of mess, let me begin to describe the dress of condiments Karl is wearing towards the end of the play. In a direct opposition to the capitalist supermarkets he was earlier mocking, Karl begins to paint himself with the condiments and spreads of an indulgent world, showing that these items lack necessity and exist as frivolity. Franz, in response, sings a folk song on his guitar as Karl spreads flour in a circle around the stage in a circle. When Franz comes to take his son back home, he attempts to clean up the mess Karl has created, scrubbing him with towelettes and mopping him, a reflection of the West attempting to conform the East of Berlin into what it deems to be the “correct” way of living, having been indoctrinated by Western Civilization over the past few years. Franz, realizing it will be too difficult to force his brother to conform, kills his brother with a mop and then ingests him.

The ingestion of Karl (horrific and gag-inducing to watch, while simultaneously theatrical genius) is the Westernizing of Berlin through the absorption of the East when efforts to create a collective identity became to annoying for the West to bear. Franz must absorb his brother in order to fully achieve the world that he wants to live in; there can be no existence of the East in the way that they so desire. Not only does this digestion, then, indicate nations, but it also an extremely personal and disturbing act to happen between two brothers. This is not only a city trying to rebuild, these are the stories of the people within the city as well, those struggling to come to terms with the reuniting of people who are supposed to identify with one another who may now have very different ideas about how the world should work. The ingestion, though it may be referential to the Armin Meiwes case, seems to indicate the people of this world trying to fit back together, as well as the city.

The play also dealt with the discussion of language often in that Franz was learning English as the language of the future and Karl was learning Russian. These languages are very indicative of the place that they were brought up, and, without Ravenhill saying that one is better or worse than the other, it speaks to two cities without a united language or future. Language is a very clear theme, especially when the brothers discuss “the boy” or Franz’s son and how he must learn to speak English or Russian and which is the “correct” language to learn. The son, represented by a sponge, is not only absorbing everything around him, and has never known the old Berlin, but also is tossed around by the two of them as a prop to get to their own desires for the future of the city and nation.

In two circumstances, the son and the father, props are used rather than adding actors. Father, is represented by a red paper box of flour, indicating a relationship to the old and underlying part of the country: flour is a foundation. The sponge, on the other hand, is something that is constantly absorbing the world around him, as children are to do at a young age. In a moment of directorial genius, Ravenhill has Karl tear a bit of the red sacking to create a communist hat for the sponge. This moment, not only connecting the boy to the past, but emulating the politics he desires for the future is one is one of great simplicity and power.

All in all, I found the play highly effective in making me realize the Westernizing of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall due to the West absorbing the East in an effort to normalize. It made me begin to think how a country so divided within itself can begin to move foreword. Also, I hope those Treadaway boys are in much more to come, as they both were stunning, subtle, and elegant in their portrayals. It also made me wonder as to what would happen if the actors were to switch roles every so often, how that would change their dynamics as scene partners and in real life, as they are actually twins. However, that is all just icing and ideas on top of an already well-crafted cake. That you don’t want with condiments.

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