"Leonce and Lena" was written in 1836 by Georg Buchner, a German scientist and revolutionary, who died in exile, only 23 years old. Buchner was an admirer of Shakespeare and "Leonce and Lena" has many references to "Hamlet" and especially to "As You Like It".
The plot is comedy at its lightest. Prince Leonce of the tiny kingdom of PooPoo is supposed to marry Princess Lena of the equally tiny kingdom of PeePee (parodying the small absolute German principalities of the time) and then to take over from his father, King Peter, who wants to retire in order to be able to concentrate on philosophy. Both Leonce and Lena, who have not seen each other, object to the marriage and escape from their respective kingdoms. They meet at a country inn and fall in love with each other. The happy end is automatic.
What is different in this comedy, however, is that its own automation becomes its real theme. The happy end can be seen as a failure to escape from the mechanisms of love and life that imprison us. Comedy, poetry, philosophy, politics and romantic love are radically questioned in a very poetic, philosophical, political and romantic comedy. Shakespeare's notion of human beings as players on a stage is radicalised: we are just puppets who don't know who pulls the strings.
Buchner's play has been seen as an attack on the "idealist" ideology of the ruling classes and as an early forerunner of modern absurd drama. It has been compared to Samuel Beckett's "Endgames" of the Western civilisation.
The set, designed by Tony Geddes, is a mixture of a world machine, ship of fools and puppet theatre within the theatre - as the Free Theatre is within the bigger Arts Centre and the Arts Centre within Christchurch city theatre... and so on.
Note: Due to Court Proceedings the theatre must be cleared by 11pm.
Free Theatre finds maturity
Reviewed by Richard Corballis, NZ Times, November 1984
Leonce and Lena
Reviewed by Gerrit Bahlman, The Press, November 1984
Too little drama in moral tale
Reviewed by Richard Corballis, The Christchurch Star, November 1984