Since 2009, English theatre director Katie Mitchell has worked in Germany regularly, contributing a production to every season of Cologne’s municipal theatre, Schauspiel Köln, throughout Karin Beier’s time as its director. Mitchell’s work at this theatre has been highly acclaimed by both public and critics; two of her productions were honoured by an invitation to the Theatertreffen, the federal republic’s annual meeting for the best productions in German theatre. Reise durch die Nacht (Night Train), one of these productions, premièred on 13 October 2012 as her last in Cologne. It is based on the novel of the same title, written by the Austrian author Friederike Mayröcker and published in 1984.
Mitchell’s production shows the female protagonist’s ride on a night train from Paris to Vienna. She takes the train with her husband to attend her father’s funeral. Throughout the journey, she is haunted by fragmentary memories of a traumatic incident in her early childhood. In the course of this sleepless night that the middle-aged woman spends wandering around the train, struggling with tinnitus and starting an affair with the young sleeping car attendant, her memories become clearer. Finally, when her husband and the attendant meet in a dramatic confrontation, she is able to reconstruct the repressed memory of an evening in her childhood when her father violently hit her mother. She decides to leave the train on her own.