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