What: La Reprise. Histoire(s) du théâtre
Who: Conceived and directed by Milo Rau
Where: Adelaide Festival Centre – Space Theatre
When: Monday 4th – Tuesday 7th March
How much: $79
It’s not unusual to walk out of a show feeling entertained, energized, or even deeply moved. It’s rare to leave a show knowing that regardless of whether you enjoyed it or not, you’ve just witnessed something important.
Swiss director Milo Rau is a theatre-maker who wants to change the world through performance. In La Reprise (‘The Repetition’), Rau brings his radical and controversial manifesto to Australia for the first time. The show is at once a brutal recreation of a recent tragedy – the homophobic murder of Ihsane Jarfi in Belgium – and a deconstructionist commentary on the processes of theatre-making and audience spectatorship.
There were many times throughout the show where I was genuinely unsure whether I liked it or not, or whether the unconventional staging choices actually worked. Adhering to Rau’s manifesto points, the show includes the use of amateurs, minimal sets, a multilingual script, and a demonstration of the casting and rehearsal processes. At times, it felt like Rau was belabouring these points a little too much. The re-created audition process, for example, went on for far too long at the start of the play, and I was left wondering when we were going to get to the important bits.
Once the show warmed up a bit, however, it drew me in with a creeping, transfixing horror. The play adopts the style of a documentary: interviews and vignettes are performed to a cameraman with a fake ‘live feed’ projected onto a large screen. There was just enough disconnect between the stage and screen to be disconcerting. Although confusing at first, the effect ultimately made the audience question the reality of what was on stage. This was the major metatheatrical question of La Reprise: how ‘real’ can theatre be? At what point does the actor become the character? When does the performance actually begin and end? Given that this play was a recreation of a real-life murder, this question haunted me throughout. I was acutely aware of the tension between the overt artificiality of the performance on stage and the knowledge of the real-life the suffering of Jarfi and his family.
The gut-wrenching fifth act re-enacted the events of the murder: the group of drunk men abducting Jarfi, beating him to death, and leaving him naked in a field to die. This scene was undoubtedly one of the most brutal, confronting things I’ve ever witnessed on stage. It is still haunting me days later. Actor Tom Adjibi’s agony is unrelenting, the realism of the torture difficult to stomach.
Even worse, however, is the senselessness of it all. La Reprise does not try to draw a meaning or moral out of the death of Jarfi. Instead, we are witness to the meaningless stupidity of this man’s awful death, and the sheer banality of the evil behind it. The actors and characters grapple with the question of ‘why?’, and it is never answered. The question of intervention, too, is asked of the audience: if the ‘most radical’ act – death — was shown on stage, would we intervene? The relationships between the audience and the actor, and the witness and victim of violence, are uncomfortably questioned, and I was left wondering how we exist as humans in a world where such heinous violence is able to occur.
Does Rau succeed at changing the world with this performance? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it is undoubtable that La Reprise is a crucial and meaningful work. When the house lights finally came on and the audience stood up in applause, I felt the overwhelming release of tension I didn’t realise I had been holding for the past hour and a half. Now, days later, the tangled questions of the show are still playing on my mind. This, to me, is proof that La Reprise largely succeeded in its goal. It wasn’t easy, but I certainly won’t forget it.