The Most Dangerous Toy

Thu 9th – Sat 18th August 2012


Thomas Stell

at 02:26 on 14th Aug 2012



Nietzsche is apparently all the rage this festival, there are two pieces on his life – this one and “The Jhiva of Nietzsche”. Playades deserve credit for using one of the loves of this extraordinary man for their latest devised work.

In 1882 Nietzsche met and befriended Lou Salomé, a writer and intellectual. He hoped to live with her and their friend Paul Rée as a “Holy Trinity” of philosophers, but such plans collapsed when Nietzsche fell in love with her and his love was not returned. Over the months that followed his attachment led him into deep sadness and his health worsened. His eyesight was already failing. In 1883 the first part of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” was finished.

Jamie Laird plays the thinker and does a good job revealing his anguish and frustrated desire. He seems intolerably lonely and we can easily pity him. Maria Alexe’s Salomé is not bad either but we are not encouraged to sympathise with her and this is the production’s main weakness. She speaks much less than her admirer and rarely discloses anything that could be a reason for her rejecting him, only saying that a man can make love to a woman and still be free, still be his own self, whereas a woman cannot make love to a man and keep her freedom. I was led to agree with Nietzsche that she was suffering from “sexual atrophy”.

This could not have been said about her later in her life with any justification, when she inspired Wedekind to create Lulu, a muse and loose woman made famous in Alban Berg’s opera, and when she was Rilke’s lover, but at this period there seems little evidence of the sexual goddess she would become. It seems to me a play on a more interesting part of her life, or a one man show with just Nietzsche relating his troubles to us would have been better. His thought could perhaps have been treated with a little more respect – Salomé dismisses the concept of the superman as a “shorthand slogan” and the opening sequence reminds us slightly gratuitously about his influence on Nazism – but the play is still informative and well performed.


Lucinda Higgie

at 10:56 on 14th Aug 2012



I like devised theatre a lot: it results in some of the most original, trail-blazing theatre I've seen. But an unfortunate pitfall of the method is that the exciting open-endedness of rehearsals often ossifies into indecision and confusion in performance. I think that this is where 'The Most Dangerous Toy', which depicts Nietzsche and Lou von Salomé's fraught relationship, has gone slightly awry.

This premise has enormous potential. Salomé is an intriguing but oft-forgotten figure and I was excited to see Playades' stated interest in 'exploring images of the female in literary history' and especially interested to see how the private letters and historic documents would be integrated into the dramatic structure. There were promising, creative gestures towards this (Nietzsche's letters to Lou are sent across the room as paper aeroplanes at one point), but it was surprising and disappointing that so much of Lou's role (Maria Alexe) comprised a simple, staid narration of her interaction with Nietzsche (Jamie Laird) and that the focus of the play was skewed so much in his favour. The clear ambivalence and mystery of her character was sometimes in danger of drifting into generalized vagueness. Sometimes it was difficult for the audience to discern different levels – whether more heightened or subdued - in the pair's relationship. Jamie Laird's performance was more satisfying, though arguably the mercurial extremes of this part are less taxing to convey than Salomé's subtleties. I can certainly see how he would make an excellent Malvolio.

According to the programme, the company experimented with 'texts and images that inspired us' and 'played with how they would fit on stage', but the end result of this still looked like a work in progress, or at least the wall of a rehearsal room: essentially, it was a washing line draped across the stage with A4 photographs pegged onto it. Some of these became appropriate at various moments, and were moved and highlighted accordingly, but many weren't. For example, during a scene wherein the pair pose for a photograph that is also to be seen pegged on the line, Nietzsche refers to photographs as false representations of the self. I could see how, in a play that considers legacy and posterity and the extent to which truth resides in them, covering the stage with 'false representations' is a clever idea. But I wish the company had pushed it further, and staged this idea in a less obvious, cluttered and distracting way. I applaud this production for its ambition and its potential, though I think it has yet come to fruition.


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