6 October, Spiegeltent
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival 2017
Coming of age in Ireland in the 1990s, the spectre of the Eurovision Song Contest loomed large. Tonight in the Spiegeltent, Otto und Astrid force me to confront my childhood trauma and come up laughing. I’m in good company. Told part in dialogue, part in song, the siblings’ convoluted backstory has plenty of trauma of its own.
After the death of their parents (either crushed by a train or eaten by a lion, we never quite figure out the truth of the matter) they escape their evil aunt and uncle (whose crimes include forcing them to clip their yellowed toenails and attempted murder) to a Berlin squat. In loco parentis, Astrid works at a bakery and steals from a nearby school to feed and educate Otto (though the gluten wreaks havoc on his digestive system). She also occasionally locks him in a cupboard so that she can go out and “make party”. After experiencing the wonder of David Bowie live in concert, Otto astride Astrid’s shoulders, she liberates a drum kit and flying V from the school music room and Die Roten Punkte (the Red Spots) are born. Despite their first gig ending with Otto calling the police because people were “wearing their shoes and using their outside voices” in his bedroom, the pair persist and rise to a modicum of fame. Not quite the Tokyo (naturally spelled T-O-Y-K-O) gig of their dreams, but at least big enough to fill rooms in Havelock North (so superior to that South Island Havelock), Nelson and Tauranga. But early deprivation has taken its toll. Astrid is a materially-obsessed hedonistic sybarite, compulsively stress-eating chips and lining up strange men to fulfil her nymphomaniacal desires, when she’s not in rehab. Otto is an emasculated bleeding-heart liberal – a rabidly vegan (fruitarian ‘til 4pm) signer of online petitions whose desperation to be a force for good, like Bono and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, is equalled only by his naked desire for love.
Their dysfunctional sibling bickering plays out through the show, amidst Kraftwerk-esque coordinated dance moves and facial expressions, enhanced by their Brechtian makeup. Songs range from the futuristic Do You Speak Dance? (we don’t speak Deutsch, we speak Dance) to Astrid’s sadomasochistic Body Slam! to Otto’s acoustic, harmonica accompanied kumbaya, Just Make Good Choices. The latter degenerates into an uproarious vaudeville chase scene through the aisles and out of the tent entirely, with those of the audience that can manage to draw breath from laughing so hard chanting in support of Otto’s idealistic plea for oneness. Resolution is achieved in a touching scene. Otto’s “I just want you to be happy”, is countered with Astrid’s “I just want you to be useful”. It’s delivered with comedic flourish but at the end of the day is that not what all of us want? What we want for our children?
Lest we begin to take ourselves too seriously, absurdism is dragged back to centre stage with a finale that sees the pair decked in heart-shaped balloons that they unsuccessfully attempt to burst by slamming into one another in a Love Explosion. Finally, in frustration, Astrid hurls her brother to the ground and forcibly pops his outer shell with a drumstick, the natural order restored.
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