Eva Feiler as Manuela, Michael Colgan as Anton and Amanda Hale as Thekla in Eldorado at the Arcola Theatre
Eva Feiler as Manuela, Michael Colgan as Anton and Amanda Hale as Thekla in Eldorado at the Arcola Theatre

Eldorado’s cryptic depiction of emotional breakdown amongst the bourgeoisie, played against the backdrop of war, scoops us into a world of undefined destruction and well-delineated interior turmoil in Dalston’s spacious but intimate Arcola theatre.

German playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s play – which premiered ten years ago at Berlin’s experimental Schaubühne theatre – alludes to the european myth of El Dorado, a lost city of gold waiting for discovery by an adventurous conquerer, or as so many an exploitative European conquistador supposed.

Director Simon Dormandy’s adaption of the play, translated by Maja Zade, rids us of context and does not allow the audience the satisfaction of knowing exactly what is going on.

The war could be Iraq, or perhaps Afghanistan. Fear and claustrophobia haunt the stage, and sometimes the distant thunder of war seems only to embody the characters’ inner disturbance. Aschenbrenner (literally: Ash Burner) opens with a foreboding monologue on a darkened stage.

As helicopters whir threateningly overhead, he paints a scene of futile destruction – animals escaped from the zoo and “refugees’ voices ringing out from the oval concrete,” before ending on a property sales pitch for his company, a narrative that will thread the showcase of broken relationships to which we are party.

Those relationships are the mainstay of the production. The tortured love between Aschenbrenner (Mark Tandy plays a wicked, vivid and intensely humorous harbinger of destruction) and his naive, puppet-like employee Anton (Michael Colgan); that of Anton and his newly wed, neurotic pianist Thekla (Amanda Hale), and the one with her ebullient, infuriating mother (Sian Thomas) and toy-boy husband are sharply, unforgivingly drawn.

Like characters in an Ibsen play, we observe, enjoy (or are distressed by) their interactions, but ultimately are held at arm’s length.

Eldorado is at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston E8 3DL until 3 May.

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