Fame. Ambition. Betrayal.
Klaus Mann’s cult novel is the true story of actor Gustaf Gründgens, whose dreams of fame led him to leave his socialist theatre company, ingratiate himself with the Nazis, and at the peak of his career, perform Faust for Hitler as head of the State Theatre in the Third Reich.
German writer Klaus Mann immortalised his brother-in-law’s story in a thinly veiled ‘fiction’ with his 1936 novel Mephisto, which was banned by the actor’s family for defamation until the mid-1980s.
Mann and Gründgens were part of the same theatre company in the provinces of Germany in the 1920s. At the time Gründgens was an ardent communist, and gave passionate speeches calling for revolution. In 1933, as Hitler rose to power, Mann and Gründgens were touring Spain with their company. Mann urged Gründgens to go into exile with him and not return to Berlin. However, in pursuit of ‘stardom’, Gründgens chose to return to Nazi Germany, adopting the ideologies of Hitler’s regime for his personal gain. Gründgens career thrived under Hitler and Mann could never forgive him for turning his back on his friends and morals.
Mann himself chose not to return for fear of persecution for homosexuality under the Nazi regime. Mann’s citizenship was stripped, and he eventually moved to the United States, where he lived as an openly gay man until his assumed suicide in 1949.
Samuel Gallet’s Mephisto [A Rhapsody] re-imagines this gripping story for the 21st century, as Europe is once again gripped by the rise of the far right.
We follow the story of Aymeric, an actor in the local theatre of Balbek who dreams of celebrity, while the right wing Front Line movement rises in popularity.
As this political earthquake convulses society Aymeric must make his choice: resist the forces of hatred or harness them for his own success.
The play turns the spotlight back onto art itself, and asks whether art really has the power to change the systems it operates within. And when history seems destined to repeat itself, how many of us would sacrifice integrity for personal gain?
Mephisto [A Rhapsody] is playing at the Gate Theatre from 3 – 26 October.