LAST DAYS OF MANKIND Premiered Arts Centre, Cathedral Square, Bridge of Remembrance, November 2000 Production Credits
Karl Kraus wrote The Last Days of Mankind during World War I, and it initially appeared in his magazine, Die Fackel, in instalments in 1918 and 1919. Although Kraus insisted that the text was not written for performance - it was "intended for a theatre on Mars" and would require ten full evenings according to the way we measure time on earth, he claimed - Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator attempted unsuccessfully to get the rights. The Last Days is a satirical tragedy staged as a docudrama which evolves into an apocalyptic warning of an impending, world-engulfing disaster. Written largely in quotations drawn from a wide variety of sources including written and spoken words, newspapers and conversations overheard on the street, it represents a vast fresco of events at the front as well as behind the lines and back home. Convinced that the self-unmasking technique of quotation was more devastating than any other technique, Kraus wrote scene after scene of biting scorn with gigantic visions of horror in order to portray the monstrousness of war. The epic form of his text is readily adaptable to the circumstances and contexts of the millennium as here, in Christchurch, we look to the past and the present, to ourselves and elsewhere for signs of the world to come. Indeed, the current crises in Fiji and elsewhere provide ample material for our work.
The Free Theatre production used little of Kraus' actual text and instead devised a performance for Christchurch derived from the themes and aims of Kraus' play. The performance took place on the streets of Christchurch, over the course of two months, culminating in a campaign of three consecutive 12-hour performances. This was "guerrilla" street theatre: performances were unadvertised, unexpected, and often unwelcome.