Milo Rau focuses on the brutal homophobic murder of Ihanse Jarfi in the intelligent and disturbing La Reprise: Histoire(s) du Theatre (I).
Milo Rau’s La Reprise: Histoire(s) du Theatre (I) is a slow insight into a homophobic murder, and the trauma that it caused to everyone involved. The techniques used by Rau to explore this topic – interviews with those involved on which the text is built, exposing theatre machinery behind representation to lessen identification and division of the story into five acts (much-like Shakespearean tragedies) – are not new and can be seen in his previous work as well, such as the brilliant Five Easy Pieces that was shown in the UK in 2017 (Manchester) and 2018 (London). Nevertheless, they’re just as effective here .
La Reprise focuses on the brutal killing of Ihsane Jarfi, which shook Belgium in 2012. The young man was beaten to death on a night out and found only after two weeks, naked at the edge of a wood. The company of both professional and non-professional actors (as demanded by NT Gent’s Manifesto), and written under Rau, look into what makes one become a murderer. And especially how social circumstances of deprivation and poverty, as was the case in the post-industrial city of Liege, can lead to violence.
The show keeps its audience at a distance by interrupting the storytelling of the murder with reflections on acting, especially what acting means to non-professional actors. They learn how to kiss and ‘hit’ on stage, and discuss what would be the most extreme thing they would dare to do on stage. This helps to alienate audience enough to make the show more reflective than emotional. Perhaps for some, this makes the production too cold – but I personally did not have this issue.
For all its insistence on the research into the topic (the inclusion of interviews from people involved and their portrayal) though, La Reprise is not a realistic piece of theatre – neither in the conventional definition of realism, nor in Rau’s own, which is “a situation arises that carries all the consequences of the real for those involved, which is morally, politically, and existentially open” (Global Realism – Golden Book I). In comparison to his other shows, and his theory, La Reprise does not quite manage to create consequences for the participants (actors and audiences) – except for the very end in a proposed experiment which, understandably, never truly takes place. Would the audience save an actor who hangs himself on stage? Thankfully, we don’t have to find out.