By Ian Shuttleworth
11.05.2009 / Financial Times
This is German company Rimini Protokoll’s first UK visit. It ought to be massively influential here, existing as it does at the confluence of two hot theatrical trends. On the one hand, there is the multimedia “showing how it’s done” aesthetic embraced by director Katie Mitchell and others, with sound and video visibly controlled from onstage; on the other is the increasingly popular verbatim theatre, in which real people are depicted in their own words. But Rimini goes further: it uses the people themselves.
I have seen Rimini shows involving a Korean-born woman adopted by a German couple perform a piece about her search for a satisfactory identity, and a group of elderly Swiss model railway enthusiasts sharing their passion with the audience.
There is little or no artifice in the performance of these “theatre experts”; the show is built round them with video and other technical effects being conspicuously added.
In Breaking News a real-life news video editor sits at a console through which she controls live satellite feeds and relays them to racks of screens. The programming is news from various countries, each translates by an onstage interpreter. We see today’s news from Russia, Iceland, the Indian subcontinent, South America and the Middle East, and from BBC Worldwide and Germany’s Tagesschau, the last with sardonic interpretation from a media analyst who notes that the show’s viewing figures peak at the weather forecast and demonstrates how he regains perspective on news by watching it standing on his head.
For this is about the transformation of news into entertainment, and the way we watch it, critically or uncritically but seldom with any depth or real engagement. The news feeds are interspersed with first-person biographical snippets and, in a move of genius, passages from Aeschylus’s The Persians, a tragedy that at the time of it’s writing was in effect a piece of current affairs theatre and is sometimes indistinguishable from 21st-century commentary.
At just over two uninterrupted hours, the work is too long for British sensibilities; it is also frequently baggy but, then, so is life. By showing us reality, simultaneously framed on a stage and yet unfiltered through conventions of dramatic shaping, Rimini does what the best theatre does: force us to re-examine what it means to be ourselves.