The Double Bass is a play by Patrick Suskind, originally written in German in 1980. Thirty five years later, on a another continent, this one act monologue is still fresh, relevant and very touching.
The work was translated into English by Michael Hofmann. It is one of those works which would work as well on radio or a bare stage as on the beautiful, clever set constructed by Denis Hutchinson for the production starring Pieter Bosch Botha and directed by Alan Swerdlow at the Auto and General Sandton Theatre on the Square.
A thirty five year old double bass player (third desk in the National Orchestra) sits in his sound-proof flat drinking beer and reflecting on the importance of the double bass in the orchestra. Every so often he stops for a drink of beer. Details of his life unfold. He is lonely and frustrated by his mediocrity and inability to rise above his circumstances. He is in love with a mezzo soprano, Sarah, who is unaware of his very existence and he has a curious love/hate relationship with the double bass. It is an allegorical and sad story about the nondescript life of the “every man” – a third desk pit player, a nobody of the orchestra, crying out to be seen and heard, but in the hands of this skilled creative team it is never maudlin nor trite.
Pieter Bosch Botha actually plays a few notes during the play and took lessons from Graeme Curry (Jazz Bassist) and Nico Kruger (JPO) in order to integrate these into a seamless and stunning performance. He becomes a thirty five year old German (with just a hint of an accent, in that way that musical people have good ears so never sound as ethnic as non-musical people when speaking a foreign language) and his story is entirely plausible. The play is entirely dependent on the skill of Pieter Bosch Botha in making one understand the allegory at a personal level for there is almost no action, no drama in this work. Alan Swerdlow keeps a tight rein on the pace and pause of the work, drawing out the pathos and humour without labouring either. What a pleasure to see a work with this degree of professionalism in every sphere. It is flawless.
During the play the audience will get to hear snippets from Brahms’ Symphony No 2, Wagner’s Die Walkure, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’s Double bass concerto No 2 in E major, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and the Dorabella aria from Cosi fan tutte and finally Schubert’s Trout Quintet.
All photos by Philip Kuhn.