Papa Kohl and Madame Mitterrand: EuroCrash! the Musical Brings the Crisis on Stage

By Aaron Wiener

A new musical coming to Berlin turns the euro crisis into an amusing fairy tale, with Hansel and Gretel-like characters and a gingerbread house. But the author says he wants to point out the euro's weaknesses, and he lays some of the blame for the crisis on Germany. The Germans, he hopes, will have a sense of humor about it all. 

A musical adaptation of the euro crisis comes to Berlin next week. Zoom
Luke Dixon

A musical adaptation of the euro crisis comes to Berlin next week.

If it were only this simple. The Germans, the French, the Greeks and the Spanish sing a song, do a dance and hash out their financial disagreements in one act. The Bundesbank and the euroskeptic take a bow, skip past the gingerbread house and everyone goes home.

At least in the theater, one can dream.

David Shirreff, a Berlin-based business correspondent for the Economist, has distilled the tortuous financial drama of his daily work into EuroCrash!, the musical. After debuting in London last fall, the show is coming to Berlin's Prime Time Theater next week. The cast then heads to Frankfurt's House of Finance for three nights before returning to London.

Given that Shirreff first wrote the musical in late 2010, and has made only a minor update since, it's more a historical journey than a treatment of the current crisis. The story opens with the Hansel and Gretel-like Mark and Gilda, not-so-subtly named for the respective former currencies of Germany and Holland, who stumble upon a gingerbread house belonging to euro architects Papa Kohl and Madame Mitterrand.

There ensues an exposition of the euro's evolution, with guest appearances (and, of course, songs) by such household names as French bureaucrat Jean Monnet and former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont. Toss in a bit of cannibalism, a daring escape, a tussle with the PIIGS and a perfunctory love story, and you've got the basic plot.

A Heavy Verdict

The show is every bit as much comedy and fantasy as it is historical narrative. "My first aim is to entertain," says Shirreff, whose 2010 musical Broke Britannia! likewise turned such dry topics as quantitative easing into merry songs with the help of composer Russell Sarre. "There's no point in writing something like this if people aren't going to laugh," he says.

Yet there is an undercurrent of warning in the story. "Why did I write it?" Shirreff asks. "Because I did want to say something, I did want to point out the weakness in the project."

And so, for a show that makes light of the crisis, the musical's final verdict on the euro is perhaps incongruously heavy. This is, after all, EuroCrash!, the story of the common currency's demise.

"The reason I wrote the piece is because I think the euro is a flawed product, it's a flawed idea," Shirreff says. "That doesn't mean that I'm anti-euro, because I'm not; I just think they haven't gone far enough."

'Do Germans Have a Sense of Humor?'

Much of the fault, he says, lies with Germany.

"There's a huge reluctance in Germany to do what it takes to pay the bill," he says. "And it's understandable reluctance, but it's likely to destroy the euro. That's my fear."

Shirreff's critique of Germany's role comes through in the musical. More than once, the heavy-handed Papa Kohl lets slip that his secret goal is to make Europe more German.

All of this makes taking the play to Germany a risk.

"In a way, it's a test," Shirreff says. "Can you see the funny side of what's happening? Do the Germans have a sense of humor? The answer is they do, but" -- he chuckles -- "if they don't laugh at my jokes, I'll be able to say, 'Well, you see, it's an uphill struggle.'"

And if he passes the test, if German audiences are willing to endure a little ridicule for the sake of theater, might he push his luck and try to take the show elsewhere in the euro zone?

Shirreff says he's looked into Brussels as a possible venue, though it hasn't worked out. As for Germany's troubled southern neighbors, whose profligacy earns them a song in Shirreff's musical, Shirreff says: "Athens? Maybe not."

EuroCrash! will play at the Prime Time Theater in Berlin-Wedding Jan. 24-26 at 8:15 p.m. and at the Frankfurt House of Finance Jan. 27-29 at 8 p.m.

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