Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Returning to Reims review at Home, Manchester – ‘intelligent and pertinent’

Bush Moukarzel and Nina Hoss in Returning to Reims at Home, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan1 Bush Moukarzel and Nina Hoss in Returning to Reims at Home, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan1

Returning to Reims, French sociologist Didier Eribon’s 2009 memoir, is astonishingly prescient. Eight years on, Eribon’s analysis of the rise of the far right – seen through his own family’s migration from the Communist Party to the Front National – addresses many of the political currents in Europe and beyond.

Thomas Ostermeier’s decision to stage it for the Manchester International Festival was a late-in-the-day response to the global surge of far-right populism, after initially planning a different production. The resulting show has both sharpness of political thought and the rawness of an evolving argument.

Ostermeier does not so much adapt Eribon’s book as grapple with it on stage. The text is reimagined as a video essay, directed by Bush Moukarzel’s self-assured filmmaker with a live voiceover from Nina Hoss – an understated yet remarkable performance.

At intervals throughout, actor and director debate what’s being represented. How are Eribon’s words being manipulated? How do the images on screen shift the meaning?

The discussion sharpens our reception as watchers and listeners. This is a knotty and confronting piece, addressing head-on the failings of left-wing intellectuals and the abandonment of the working classes. When the leaders of the left embraced neoliberalism, is it any wonder that those left behind found a new political home?

What could be a detached, cerebral affair has moments of playful theatricality that reconnect audience and stage, recalling Ostermeier’s fourth-wall-smashing treatment of the classics. And it concludes on a surprisingly optimistic note, showing how people can transcend their social conditions.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Thomas Ostermeier's intelligent and politically pertinent stage treatment of Didier Eribon’s prescient memoir