One of the rules of Milo Rau’s manifesto for NTGent states that the goal of theatre is not to depict the world, but to make representation real. This 2018 show, about the brutal murder of Ihsane Jarfi in the Belgian city of Liège in 2012, puts that into practice.
La Reprise has a traditional five-act structure. The first half of the show places the process in the foreground, showing how three non-professional performers were selected for this project (another requirement of the manifesto). There’s room for levity here, a knowing kind of humour. One of the performers, Tom Adjibi, who will play Jarfi, even jokes about never being cast to play a character, always “an origin”.
The longest act consists of an enactment of the build-up to the murder and the killing itself using a mixture of video and performance. Outside a gay club Jarfi gets into a car with a group of men and is beaten to death. This unfolds in real time and is prolonged and unflinching. Repeated kicks and blows are aimed at Adjibi’s prone and bloodied body. It’s almost unbearable to watch, even though the artifice of the scene remains clear.
Jarfi’s boyfriend is quoted as saying he felt it necessary to make himself look at photos of his broken body, to bear witness. There’s an argument that this production does that. This is a fiercely intelligent, artistically rigorous and highly self-aware piece of theatre, an extraordinary work in many respects, but in the method of its framing, as a treatise on theatre, and its fixation on the violence meted out, on a senseless death, it feels at times in danger of erasing life.