Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is reconceived as a visually lush De Toverberg by FC Bergman at Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
“It is no time at all, which passes here”
I can’t lie, my experience of German literature is somewhat limited (by choice) and so the name Thomas Mann means little to me. But I’m always willing to give something a whirl at least once, particularly where Internationaal Theater Amsterdam are concerned. And with exciting company FC Bergman at the helm here, I was intrigued if nothing else.
And that is largely where I remained. De Toverberg (or The Magic Mountain) is an epic of a show that resists any easy categorisation (and not just because I wasn’t entirely sure if I knew what was going on at some points). Not knowing the book, I can’t speak to Stef Aerts and Marie Vinck’s adaptation, done alongside dramaturg Koen Tachelet but by all accounts, a fair amount has been chopped.
What remains is a large-scale philosophical debate that unsurprisingly, given this world, has resonances that chime equally between the 1920s and the 2020s. The programme speaks of “life and death, love and eroticism, illness and health, intellect and emotion, reason and intoxication” all of which are being debated in a sanatorium in the Swiss mountains which Hans Castorp visits, meaning to stop by for three weeks and ending up staying for seven years.
And with a surfeit of philosophising taking the lead, rather than conventional plot-driven narrative, FC Bergman’s production amps up the stage business to the nth degree. There’s live camera work, all sorts of prop jigging, breath-taking effects and also a huge swing the other way once the tone starts to darken. But as weighty as the conversations are, they can’t help but feel a touch ephemeral as we find ourselves (possibly) at a remove from ‘the real world’ (I think).
At its best, The Magic Mountain exerts a hypnotic power that grips as we’re immersed in the play’s debates. But at well over three hours, it is a long time to remain charitably inclined towards something so elusive in its intent. Maybe forearmed with knowledge of the book I might have appreciated the play more, fully engaged in it rather than bemusedly acknowledging its absolute idiosyncracies.