By Peter Crawley
02.07.2013 / The Irish Times
Imagine this. There has been a revolution. The People’s Republic of Cork – previously only the dream of a T-shirt – has become a political reality. A series of referenda shape its constitution. Gay marriage and adoption rights are enshrined into law by a 98 per cent majority. Abortion is legalised by a landslide. Cannabis narrowly escapes legalisation. Debt forgiveness for homeowners in negative equity is just about passed.
That, at least, is how 100 people currently living in Cork city express their views in Rimini Protokoll’s engagingly- staged live survey. If statistics reduce people to mere figures, the German documentary theatre makers reverse the process here, working in collaboration with Irish director Una McKevitt to recruit a cross-section of society – or, rather, the portion of society willing to appear onstage.
Seeing the participants amass, aged from two to nearly 80, is to appreciate the project in all its inspired nuttiness. Conventional drama, too, is intended to be representative (“to hold, as t’were, a mirror up to nature”), and Rimini Protokoll’s archly literal, playfully structured approach towards representation contains its own revelations and friction. We learn, for instance, that nobody could find (or persuade) anyone to join the cast from the wealthy Montenotte suburb, or from Cork’s significant Polish community. Such isolation is revealing: how well integrated or cohesive can any society hope to be?
The delight of the show, though, rests in its techniques, where overhead cameras show participants forming giant pie charts, voting with torch lights in secret ballots, or forming colour- coded graphs in answer to various political and personal questions. “Will Ireland be a better place to live in three years?” “Who is gay?” “Who is working their dream job?” “How many have cheated on a partner?” In just 90 minutes, you appreciate the big picture while also following individuals whose politics encourage or appal you.
The production itself, though, seems benignly indifferent to its subjects, cast in the role of respondents, never proponents. There is no message, no comment, only inquiry, while its form – polished over five years and nearly 20 cities – barely alters between 100% Dresden or 100% Tokyo. Can any society resist such easy encapsulation, or have Rimini Protokoll really got our number?