Haunting celebration

The play Ibsen: Ghosts looks at euthanasia as it follows the final days of a German woman

In Ibsen: Ghosts, Markus Schafer and Markus Wenzel wear ghost costumes and dance to the Ghostbusters theme song.


Markus&Markus Studio Theatre, School Of The Arts/ Wednesday

In the original Ibsen play, Ghosts, a desperately ill man begs his mother to help him die.

German theatre collective Markus&Markus presents a real- life example of the same as part of The O.P.E.N., the pre-festival programme of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

The collective follows the final days of Margot, a German woman who goes to an assisted suicide organisation in Switzerland a few months after her 80th birthday and there exercises her legal right to die. Suicide and euthanasia are controversial topics, the discussion of which is almost taboo in globalised Western culture today.

During Ibsen: Ghosts, performers Markus Wenzel and Markus Schafer accuse the audience of losing touch with death and fearing it. To make death less frightful, they wear ghost costumes and dance to the Ghostbusters theme song. They read out tales of cultures in harmony with death. In Madagascar, families exhume the bones of loved ones once a year and party with them.

At the start of the performance, the two actors mimic famous suicides in art. Young Werther shoots himself in the head, as in Goethe's novel. Romeo and Juliet expire of poison and pointed blade.

Margot's death is also the finale of a suitably dramatic build-up. The final weeks of her life are captured in video footage shown to martial soundtracks, including a beginning montage in the theme of HBO's Game Of Thrones TV series.

The video feed plays in the background of a set done up to resemble the famous Last Supper of the Bible. Wenzel and Schafer drink the wine in the glasses, bring out Margot's favourite flowers and little objects from her home. They also appear on camera with Margot as she goes shopping, feeds dogs in the park or plays with children.

Margot is active, mobile and in relentless good humour. There is no doubt that she is of sound enough mind to make decisions for herself, perhaps even the weighty one of when to leave this life.

One wonders why this woman would choose to die. She is not lonely, though she is the last of her family still alive. She has close friends, at least one of whom does not agree with her decision.

Then come the recitals of her medical records, an actor drinking an entire bottle of wine and then throwing up on stage to mimic her undignified battle with incontinence. Margot suffers unbearable pain that cannot be treated by regular therapies. Once a strong, independent woman with a career, she refuses to enter a future of increasing dependency.

Her exit from the world on May 1 is moving, graceful and quiet. It is played out on video against a stage the actors have decorated in the Easter ornaments Margot used for a farewell party.

The bunny ornaments symbolise renewal and emphasise the idea that death of the old paves the way for the new. It is a pretty idea, but not strong enough to overcome the nagging sense that society failed Margot. After all, the camera captures her telling the theatre collective that if they come to visit her often enough, she will give up her plan to die.

Ibsen: Ghosts celebrates Margot's vitality, but barely touches the heart of the controversy over assisted suicide. Ibsen's play shows a tussle between the living desperate to hold on to their loved ones and the loved ones who are ready to leave. Margot is ready to leave but in Ibsen: Ghosts, the audience sees little evidence of people wanting her to stay.

• Ibsen: Ghosts shows 8pm, July 8, at the Sota Studio Theatre. Free admission with O.P.E.N. Pass ($45) available at the door.

Correction Note: An earlier version of this story has indicated that Ibsen: Ghosts is fully registered. The organisers have clarified that limited seats are still available. This has been corrected.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline Haunting celebration. Subscribe