Comedy in Edinburgh during August is seen as the preserve of the fringe. But with the programming of Volksbuhne Berlin’s production of Murmel Murmel at the EIF, humour – if not stand-up – has entered what is usually seen as the serious world of high art.
Dieter Roth’s 1974 work Murmel repeats the title word (meaning marble) over 176 pages laid out as a play script, but without stage directions. It is a moot point whether it is a piece of concrete poetry or a proper play.
Director Herbert Fritsch has taken it as a rhythmic libretto. It is a framework around which he, composer Ingo Gunther and the 11 cast members have created a piece that combines physical theatre and music theatre in a huge and comic celebration of performance.
The delivery of the lines is not used to mimic conversation or meaning, as might be expected. Rather the word is used as a rhythm, initially delivered without inflection – a staccato of noise – while Gunther conducts from the pit. He creates jazzy, easy-listening electro vibes on keyboards and marimba, while the cast bark out the word.
The cast, dressed in late 1950s outfits in the first of three costume changes, pose and mug across the stage. They combine intense grimaces with gangly, physical movements. The set, consisting of sliding panels, adds to the movement, while the supporting wheels are miked up, to add further to Gunther’s soundscape.
There is no overarching narrative here, more a succession of playful subplots, including a mimed breaking of the fourth wall as the cast are thrown, repeatedly, into the pit. As a joke, it suffers from delivering its punchline at the beginning, but it is certainly a joke worth making.