With Herbert Fritsch they still run into every wall, the ladies and gentlemen of the comedy “Horse Eats Hat”. In Basel, Grönemeyer makes the music.
The fabulous crew of “Horse Eats Hat” Photo: Thomas Aurin
Herbert Fritsch fans know what to expect. It is a kind of motor extract that captures Wagner operas as well as self-written nonsense. It’s been that way since the ex-Volksbühne star switched sides and was at the forefront of the directors’ guild. With a stylized aesthetic, artistic slapstick motor skills, with tried and tested and somewhat worn out gags. At Fritsch they still run into every wall, are repeatedly hit in the face by an abruptly opened door or look at the man’s pants if something is even called “small”. Something like that. You have to consciously want to be entertained by the original substance of the theater in order to be well served here.
The legendary “Murmel Murmel” at the Volksbühne was, so to speak, Opus 1 in a rapidly expanding catalog of works that now also includes opera. Sometimes his plunge into well-known pieces (as in Rossini’s “Barber” in Vienna) ends with a crash landing. Then again he manages to fascinate unexpectedly and accurately with a piece that doesn’t seem to be suitable for his method (like Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” at the Komische Oper in Berlin).
Eugène Labiche’s “A Florentine Hat” from 1851 is per se a great template for the Fritsch Theater. Here the pace and the confusion are built in and are just waiting for the turbo acceleration and an ensemble that plays along.
For his second production of this classic, there is the icing on the cake this time: none other than Herbert Grönemeyer contributed a total of 16 songs and some incidental music to the Basel co-production with the Komische Oper Berlin, which has now premiered in Basel. Thomas Meadowcroft arranged it for a large orchestra and Thomas Wise and the Basel Symphony Orchestra ensure that it actually sounds like a musical comedy that plays somewhere between a vaudeville show, a musical and a tabloid comedy with the music Blinde Kuh, and sometimes one thing, sometimes caught the other one.
The title “Horse eats hat” sums up the backstory and provides the first image of the overture. The room in which the hunt for a replacement hat begins (and, as always, comes from the director) is colorful and crooked, has 10 doors and a revolving door in the center above a yellow staircase.
The owner of the hat-eating horse, Fadinard, has to find a replacement because the hat belonged to a married woman with a jealous husband. The hat-eating accident happened while the hat owner was having a break with her lover. The fact that the horse owner is about to get married and all the relatives are already waiting in the taxis for the starting signal is part of the combination of improbabilities that is the fuel for comedy chaos.
And that’s what Fritsch unleashes with his fabulous crew. When the songs mixed in with the somewhat long spoken passages sound directly like Grönemeyer (as with Christopher Nell’s Fadinard and Sarah Bauerett as his harshly bellowing, hat-making ex Clara), it’s a real joy. In the case of the songs, which are more in the usual musical sound, it is above all the ironic exaggeration to which Fritsch pushes his performers that makes the numbers float a saving hand’s breadth above the rhyme-you-or-I-hit-you cliffs of Grönemeyer’s texts .
Taken on their own, most of the boom-bum-bum or la-la-la framed sayings would be difficult to endure as song lyrics. But because they all deliver such perfect nonsense, you have to laugh heartily even at the classics in the slightly overlong three hours. About the hat that keeps bouncing around when its owner tries to pick it up, or about the two men in the bathtub. True to the motto: the duck, er, the joke stays in.