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Stage review

The Ego and His Own: Buzzing, uncompromising individualism

Max Stirner’s 1844 philosophical text of individualism has been transformed into a surreal spectacle at Deutsches Theater.

Photo: Arno Declair

With this iteration, Sebastian Hartmann celebrates the challenge of making musical theatre – an inherently collaborative enterprise – out of Max Stirner’s 1844 philosophical text dedicated to uncompromising individualism.

Hartmann’s heterodox adaptation of The Ego and His Own at the Deutsches Theater explores the pleasures and pratfalls of Stirner’s insistence on the self with synthesisers, smoke, song and circularity. Hartmann sets the stage with a minimalist modernist spiralling ramp which, as mist rises up, becomes a magic mountain.

Up and down and round and round the actors go – and ultimately get nowhere. Though the directorial choices are sometimes befuddling, they mostly entertain. The performers channel German Expressionism and Luis Buñuel’s late surrealism. Bees buzz as Hartmann brings alive a motif from the text with projected animations, but the demand to put on 3D glasses only proves distracting.

The ensemble cast, however, is game for it all. They dance with a robot. They sing with gusto. When they break out from the German lyrics in the catchiest of the songs to proclaim, “We’re fucking loving it,” PC Nackt’s eerie electronic music is unsettling enough to keep you from wholly embracing the egotistic sentiment. The premise of Stirner’s philosophy is the idea of the ego as the “unique one” – out of which comes the world. And the actors do try to instantiate this world, though you can see other Deutsches Theater musicals underlying it.

While that means the performance might not be wholly unique, this Theatertreffen-endorsed piece is certainly special.