Duncan Macmillan • The Forbidden Zone
In German and English with German and Englisch surtitles
Print programme (PDF)
Duncan Macmillan, Text
Katie Mitchell, Director
Finn Ross, Video
Lizzie Clachan, Sets
Sussie Juhlin-Wallen, Costumes
Leo Warner, Director of Photography
Melanie Wilson, Sound
Paul Clarke, Music
Jack Knowles, Lighting
The English director Katie Mitchell has been commissioned by the Salzburg Festival as part of our season reflecting on the First World War to create the project The Forbidden Zone for the Perner-Insel Hallein stage.
Katie Mitchell and her writer Duncan Macmillan’s initial inspiration came from Mary Borden’s autobiographical work of the same name. Borden, a rich American heiress, financed and ran a field hospital on the Western Front and her book about these experiences proves herself to be an author of consequence, who succeeds in providing a compelling account of the sufferings of the wounded soldiers and the often powerless medical staff attempting to help them.
During Katie Mitchell and Duncan Macmillan’s process of research and preparation – as is desirable and not atypical for such a lengthy project – their interest in the events of the First World has evolved. As a consequence, the events on stage will no longer be centred around Mary Borden as originally envisaged. Instead, Katie Mitchell and Duncan Macmillan have chosen to shift their focus onto the story of another remarkable woman from the First World War period: Clara Immerwahr.
Clara Immerwahr was a distinguished chemist and the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D in her native town of Breslau. However, her professional career was eclipsed by that of the husband she married shortly after attaining her doctorate. Fritz Haber played a decisive role in the synthesis of ammonia, for which he won a Nobel Prize and came to be regarded as the inventor of artificial fertilizer. However, he was also the driving force behind Germany’s participation in the escalating use of poison gas during the First World War and subsequently, as ‘Chairman of the Technical Commission for Vermin Control’, in later years he oversaw the development of Zyklon B, which was to gain horrific notoriety for its role in the Nazi’s extermination programme.
Clara disagreed passionately with Haber and wished to stop him from using science to slaughter large groups of soldiers by deploying the first weapons of mass destruction. In the summer of 1915, following her husband’s direct involvement in the first German gas attacks in Ypres during the Second Battle of Flanders, Clara Immerwahr shot herself with her husband’s service revolver. She bled to death in the arms of their thirteen year-old son Hermann.
In The Forbidden Zone Mitchell and Macmillan will reassess Clara Immerwahr’s heroic actions from the perspective of Hermann’s daughter, Claire Haber, herself a chemist, living in New York in 1949, after her father too had committed suicide, as she tries to make sense of her family’s involvement in the development of chemical weapons and the holocaust.
The manner in which the tragedy of this German Jewish family is entwined with the ideological, political, military and humanitarian catastrophes of the first half of the twentieth century sheds light on the links between the events of 1914 and 1945. The texts of Mary Borden will continue to play a significant role in the play as literary testimony – and the production will retain this title.
Apart from its obvious double meaning, in the context of Borden’s experiences The Forbidden Zone initially denoted the area to which women were denied access: the front. Now, in Katie Mitchell’s investigation of the theme of personal guilt, the title reaches beyond this to cover a range of ethical tabus – which are nevertheless broken. This bilingual production, with two English and four German actors, will be produced in collaboration with the Schaubühne Berlin.
Katie Mitchell is one of Britain’s most distinguished theatre and opera directors. She has been a resident director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court Theatre and the National Theatre, London. Her Cologne production of Friederike Mayröcker’s Night Train was invited to the 2013 Theatertreffen and nominated for the Nestroy Prize in the category ‘Best Production in the German Language’. She is best known in Salzburg for her highly acclaimed 2009 production of Luigi Nono’s Al gran sole carico d’amore.