Eugène Labiche, Botho Strauß
The Piggy Bank
First Slovenian production
2 December 2006
The main character of Labiche’s five-act comedy is actually a group of provincial nobility. The group includes a rentier, his no-longer-so-young sister, his marriageable daughter, a landowner, a pharmacist, a tax gatherer and a notary who is pursuing his daughter. What they have in common is not only enjoying the easy life in the little town of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre but also their weekly socializing around the card table. The players deposit their winnings—sou after sou—in a simple piggy bank. They have agreed that when it is full enough to be cracked open, they will spend the money together. After long discussions, much strategizing and the making of pragmatic alliances, they finally agree to spend the savings from this special fund on a luxurious journey to the capital of the world—Paris. Their trip to the city of light naturally does not go according to their expectations (though visiting Paris was in everyone’s own secret interest): they immediately fall prey to clever thieves, arrogant waiters, inefficient policemen and other typical phenomena of a metropolis. After numerous escapades, their odyssey eventually ends happily. The trip was a nightmarish vision of financial bankruptcy from which they—self-content members of the petit-bourgeoisie—wake up, finding themselves once again safe in the world of savings and capital accumulation.
One of the most renowned contemporary German dramatists, prose writers and essayists, Botho Strauβ was a dramaturg at the Berlin theatre Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer at the beginning of the 1970s. The theatre was founded by the charismatic director Peter Stein and during his term as general manager it became a reference point for the theatrical aesthetic and ideology of the time. Strauβ wrote plays, translated and worked on adaptations, focusing on classics such as Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Kleist’s Prince of Homburg and Maxim Gorky’s Summer Folk. He also did an adaptation of Labiche’s comedy La Cagnotte (1864) titled The Piggy Bank, Stein’s performance based on this play became one of his most important productions and contributed significantly to the breakthrough of a new generation of theatre.
Nowadays, Eugène Labiche is considered the first maestro of the French vaudeville (he became successful during his lifetime and was accepted as one of the “immortals” of the French Academy), but despite over a hundred and seventy plays he is most known for one in particular—The Florentine Straw Hat—which has been performed many times in Slovenia. Although even Labiche’s contemporaries praised his Cagnotte for its “modernity”, Strauβ himself quotes Francisque Sarcey who wrote that “La Cagnotte is still The Florentine Straw Hat, but The Florentine Straw Hat after The Lady of the Camellias, after Madame Bovary, and after the experimental studies of Hippolyte Taine …” Due to its construction and mechanics, situations and humour, this play remains above all a comedy. Strauβ’s adaptation emphasized its irrationality and near absurdity, turning it into a grotesque metaphor.
The Piggy Bank is Martin Kušej’s second production at the National Theatre Drama Ljubljana where, sixteen years ago, he directed Ödön von Horváth’s Faith, Love, and Charity. He is now one of the leading theatre and opera directors in the German-speaking world.
Maribor Theatre Festival 2007