Theatre-making manifestos always make me wary, in part because I'm inherently suspicious of portentous artists in any field: "The aim is not to depict the real, but to make the representation itself real," says the Ghent Manifesto—er, what?! That said, the results of such "manifestos" can create work that's emotionally powerful, technically inventive and genuinely diverse—delightfully challenging both the "traditional" ways things are done, and the kinds of people actually doing them.
On occasions, the mood can be quite light, although it's a dark humour.
La Reprise – "The Repetition" – is about the brutal, homophobic murder of Ihsane Jarfi in the Belgian city of Liège in 2012. The production has a traditional five-act structure, but in most other respects is far from typical: the first half, for example, puts the theatrical process centre-stage, including the audition process through which three of the roles were given to non-professional performers. On occasions, the mood can be quite light, although it's a dark humour. Liège, the former Steel capital of Europe, is now a city of the unemployed: brutal murder a perfect metaphor of its decline.
The core of the play, devised by director Milo Rau and cast, is the titular repetition; an enactment of the events leading to Jarfi's abduction from outside a gay club, and the violent car drive that eventually led to the edge of town where he was beaten and kicked to death. Unfolding pretty much in real time, shown through a mixture of live performance and video, it's understandably tough to watch—even though it's necessarily choreographed in a way that’s so clearly dependent on the "victim" selling the impact of each blow by their reactions, as was explained earlier on.
We're told that Jarfi's grieving mother was unhappy with how her son's life and death was put on public display during the subsequent trial, and I can't help wonder what her reaction was to the idea of this play. Sold to us as a means of witnessing and remembering Jarfi’s life and death, it's wrapped in intelligent theatrical philosophy, but still strikes me as hurtfully voyeuristic and focused too much on death rather than life.