Gábor Sára: Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolfgang?

Wolfgang Prikopil, a 44-year-old Austrian man kidnapped a 10 years old girl in 1998 and kept her in his cellar for 8 and a half years. The girl was called Natascha Kampusch. A Greek playwright, Mavritsakis Yannis wrote a piece based on the story from the viewpoint of the kidnapper in 2006, the year of the girl’s successful escape. Twelve years later the Romanian director Radu Afrim has brought the play to Piatra Neamt.

To kidnap, rape and hurt a child is held to be one of the worst crimes in modern society. Natascha Kampusch, who managed to escape and publish her story, became an iconic victim of paedophilia and sexual violence. I was wondering how a theatre show – and not a documentary one – can deal with this extremely heavy topic and the real story at its centre. And how they will show the relationship between the kidnapper and the ten-year-old girl.

A nice, black haired guy in his twenties is playing with a child’s toy in front of the red curtain as the audience take their seats. The show starts with a spectacular and loud musical live-clip. The main singer is a black-haired man with black suit and floury black hair. He is the dead dad of Wolfgang, a world famous Romanian pop singer and a permanent company of his son. The father is the main reason for Wolfgang’s sick sexual attitude. The father cheated on Wolfgang’s mother several times, therefore the son dreams about the pure and complete love.

There is in the centre of the stage an old, blue car, and around it, several colourful boxes, cages, flowers in aquarium, a fridge and so on. These closed space-elements contain alienated people’s claustrophobic lives. Next to Wolfgang lives a man, who tries to pretend everything is alright, but his wife is unemployed, depressed and alcoholic. They have a daughter, the ten-year-old Fabiana. In conversation with the neighbour, with a friend, or with any other human being, Wolfgang seems secretive and strange. His most intimate relationship is with the car that he is constantly cleaning and polishing. We first see his real face when a girl starts to flirt with him. Wolfgang is not interested in the girl until he starts to be aggressive with her. His brutality and the dominance over the girl makes him sexually aroused.

The goal of the first part of the show seems to be to observe and understand the deeper layers of a potential kidnapper in the dirty and alienated society we live in, as a reason and context of this kind of crime. But we are shown a cute guy who is a bit introverted and timid. Therefore, it was hard to follow the main character, when he traps the small girl, Fabiana, in the car.

From this point I started to feel uncomfortable and annoyed. I was wondered why. Until the action of kidnapping, I have seen a fairy tale about a boy called Wolfgang in a colourful, well-made space with funny, strange, caricatured characters in shiny costumes. These figures were absolutely far away from Natascha Kampusch, Austria and other details of the real story.

At the crucial point of the crime, I couldn’t continue to watch the story in the same light, the same grotesque frame. I expected something more real and effective, not so trashy and artistic. But Afrim kept the play in the same style, space and acting. The moral scandal happened, but the stage didn’t change at all, neither the aspect of the story. We stayed with Wolfgang.

I asked from myself: why would anybody stage this story if he has no interest in the world under the cellar, the story of the surviving? Why use this horrible – and real – story if the girl is shut in the car, and we stay in the outside world with the perpetrator, with his mother, and with the parents of the girl? I couldn’t catch the connection between the story and the show. We saw some superficial commonplaces about their relation, some presumption about Stockholm-syndrome. When I read any of the interviews with Kampusch, it’s much deeper, effective and relevant than any scene of the show. Sometimes theatre can be so ridiculous, when it tries to stage the big scandals of our time in a traditional, fictional, theatrical frame. The Kampusch story in the set of the show was like a tank in a playground; everything else suddenly seems pretty trivial, and yet no one seemed able to talk about the tank.