La reprise. Histoire(s) du théâtre (I) [Cancelled]
Delving into a sordid news item, Milo Rau, one of the most forceful directors in contemporary theatre, questions the very essence of theatre and its capacity to depict the unbearable.
With his merciless reconstitutions of reality, Milo Rau has established a reputation as one of the most trenchant directors in contemporary theatre. His political and social plays, including this major work La reprise (The Repetition), cleverly interweave investigation, testimony and fiction while also questioning the very essence of theatre and its capacity to depict the unbearable.
A news item serves as the raw material for La reprise. Vast steelworks in Liege are rusting in the rain, a source now only of unemployment. Four out-of-work men beat a young homosexual to death. How can such horror be portrayed onstage? And then performed again, night after night? Tracking even their slightest expressions, a camera is constantly reframing the work of six actors, two of whom are non-professionals. Inexorably, in recreating an outrageous crime, the intolerable becomes banal. A brilliant demonstration of the force of theatre.
Produced by International Institute of Political Murder
Conceived, written, and directed by Milo Rau
Performed by and written with Suzy Cocco + Kristien de Proost + Sébastien Foucault + Adil Laboudi + Fabian Leenders + Sabri Saad El Hamus
Research and Dramaturgy Eva-Maria Bertschy
Dramaturgic Collaboration Stefan Bläske + Carmen Hornbostel
Set and Costume Design Anton Lukas
Vidéo Maxime Jennes + Dimitri Petrovic
Lighting Design Jurgen Kolb
Sound Design and Technical Director Jens Baudisch
Production Management Mascha Euchner-Martinez + Eva-Karen Tittmann
Camera Maxime Jennes + Moritz von Dungern
Technical Staff on tour Sylvain Faye (Light) + François Pacco (Subtitles)
Set Design Assistant Patty Eggerickx
Fight Choreography Cédric Cerbara
Vocal Coaching Murielle Legrand
Musical Arrangements Gil Mortio
Public Relations Yven Augustin
Set and Costumes Construction Workshops and studios of the Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles
Background actors Mustapha Aboulkhir + Stefan Bläske + Tom De Brabandere + Elise Deschambre + Thierry Duirat + Stéphane Gornikowski + Kevin Lerat + François Pacco + Daniel Roche de Oliveira + Laura Sterckx + Adrien Varsalona
Co-produced by Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussells) + NTGent (Ghent) + Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne + Nanterre-Amandiers – centre dramatique national + Tandem Scène nationale Arras Douai + Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz (Berlin) + Théâtre de Liège + Münchner Kammerspiele + Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Frankfurt) + Theater Chur + Gessnerallee Zürich + Romaeuropa Festival
With the support of Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Berlin) + Pro Helvetia + Ernst Göhner Stiftung + Kulturförderung Kanton St. Gallen + ESACT Liège
Presented in association with Place des Arts + Festival du nouveau cinéma
Written by Paul Lefebvre
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, on May 4, 2018
Milo Rau (Ghent + Berlin) International Institute of Political Murder
Born in Bern, Switzerland in 1977, the director, essayist, journalist and filmmaker Milo Rau has over the past fifteen years been rejuvenating documentary theatre, which he views as a “combat sport”.
Trained by the socially engaged sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and the historian of ideas Tzvetan Todorov and deeply concerned about issues of violence and justice, he recreates onstage acts of aggression and oppression so that the spectator becomes a witness and grabs hold of reality.
In 2007 he founded the International Institute of Political Murder in order to produce and present his shows, such as The Last Hours of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu (2009), his 2011 piece Hate Radio (Radio des Mille Collines during the Rwandan genocide, presented at the FTA in 2014), Breivik’s Statement in 2012 (the Norwegian mass murderer), The Moscow Trials in 2013 (the trial and sentencing of Pussy Riot, which led to Rau being denied an entry permit for Russia), The Congo Tribunal (2015) and Five Easy Pieces in 2016 (a show about the pedophile Marc Dutroux, performed by children and adolescents).
In 2018 he was named artistic director of NTGent, the leading theatre in Ghent, Belgium and for the occasion published his Ghent Manifesto. The first of its “rules” stipulates: “It’s not just about portraying the world anymore. It’s about changing it. The aim is not to depict the real, but to make the representation itself real.”
La reprise is the first part of the series on the nature, history and future of theatre, which you have titled Histoire(s) du théâtre. The piece is based on a news item. How did you become interested in the murder of Ihsane Jarfi? What does this case have to do with a “history of theatre”?
This first part of Histoire(s) du théâtre will be about the theatre makers’ view on theatre – about the actors’ obsessions, about my obsessions.
This includes very technical issues: How do you enter, how do you exit? How does a character evolve from a text? How can human borderline experiences – shame, grief, extreme violence, but also commitment and revolt – be represented on stage? What does “truth” actually mean in theatre?
One of the actors, Sébastien Foucault, who lives in Liège, followed the case in court back then. Almost obsessively, he went to see the trials and when we were looking for a focal point, a “case” for La Reprise, he suggested this one.
And there was another, quite absurd coincidence: Jean-Louis Gilissen, a lawyer from Liège with whom we have been working together for a long time – he was the president of Le Tribunal du Congo, for example – told us about the case over dinner. He had defended one of Jarfi’s murderers and the trial has been on his mind ever since.
So, during the first two weeks of rehearsals we went to Liège with the actors to meet the people involved in this case – and in order to find other actors, including someone who would play the victim himself.
We all asked ourselves a number of questions: Why do we do theatre? How do we do it? To what end? In order not to fall into the trap of autobiographical truths, I had to rely on something else, something more objective.
Ihsane Jarfi was tortured and killed by a group of young men for several hours without any reason. He had done nothing to them, he had just happened to come out of a gay bar when they stopped at the corner and started talking to him. What happened next can only be reconstructed from the murderers’ accounts.
They were extremely brutal. But how can we recreate this case on a stage? How do you play a murderer? How do you hit someone? And how do you repeat all of this night after night?
Is La Reprise a tragedy?
Even though we obsessively deal with the night Ihsane Jarfi was murdered in the play, we are basically not interested in the event. What is interesting is how the deeper you get into it, this often multiplied, inflated murder case turns out to be a banal and pointless sequence of coincidences, an unfortunate series of events.
There are two birthday parties and different people who encounter each other completely unintentionally. There is social violence that is catalyzed.
It’s really like in an ancient Greek tragedy: the people, the characters are blind, they become increasingly entangled in disaster and culpability, with which – in an almost somnambulistic way – they always can only relate to in retrospect, during the reconstruction of the event. Jarfi died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because he – possibly – said something wrong.
The murderers had no reason to kill him, they had no intention of doing so at the beginning – just as Oedipus has no intention of killing his father, whom he meets by chance at a crossroads. But the tragedy in all of my plays and here too is the traumatic impenetrability of violence. No reason, no psychology, no sociological explanation can help the audience in the end.
A tragedy is not a narrative, it is an attempt at the impossible truth, at futility, impenetrability and the non-communicable nature of death.
Does La Reprise follow your Ghent Manifesto, these ten very concrete, almost technical rules, which aim at an increased democratization of theatre?
In a way, yes. It’s about using rules to unleash something new: something I call “global realism”. I want a light theatre that doesn’t have huge sets and can tour and travel around the whole world. I also want a democratic theatre which everyone has access to. In short, I want to programmatically crack open the hermetic space of the theatre, also with regard to today’s classics, myths and styles.
The idea that theatre is made for an audience, that it is a public endeavour, is a crucial part of my aesthetics.
In the Ghent Manifesto the audience’s position is included in the authorship of my theatre. La reprise is actually an allegory on the audience’s function: Why are they watching? Why aren’t they onstage? Why aren’t they involved? We are all part of humankind, part of the same great story.
As it happens, this is a very Greek notion of theatre. When Oedipus accidentally encounters and then kills his father, then this is no coincidence, but is part of a greater destiny, the fate of “humankind”.
So there’s a purpose to everything that happens. But how do we find that purpose nowadays? Where is the transcendence behind human misery?
“The production that dominated conversations in Avignon […] Credit must go to the extraordinary cast, especially the amateurs who blended in seamlessly.”
The New York Times (États-Unis), 19-07-2018
“It is an extraordinarily mature, crystalline, engaging and compelling piece of theatre […] The acting is exceptional across the board.”
The Guardian (Royaume-Uni), 11-07-2018
It is troubling, and rightly so.”
Exeuntmagazine.com (Royaume-Uni), 08-08-2019
“Milo Rau pretty much lives up to his legend with this profound and disturbing piece of epic metatheatre […] A deceptively brilliant mise en scene from Rau himself and some truly awesome blurring of the live/pre-recorded video boundary.”
Time Out (Royaume-Uni), 04-08-2019
“This is realism at its most flexible and courageous, less a set of conventions than a compulsion to imagine the seemingly unimaginable.”
Theconversation.com (Australie), 06-03-2019