02 November 2018

The Repetition

A few weeks ago, I attended a theatre performance at the Schaubühne, a theatre in the former West Berlin. I actually haven't been to this venue before, so I was of course excited to discover something new in my adopted city. I watched a performance of The Repetition by Milo Rau.

The Repetition is very meta: it is a theatre piece about theatre, centred around a real event that happened in Liège: the murder of Ihsane Jarfi in 2012. One spring day in April 2012, Ihsane Jarfi was found dead, naked, tortured, along the side of a road, by a man walking his dog. It later turns out that he was the victim of a homophobic attack. The Repetition deconstructs the whole event from various perspectives, and at the same time deconstructs theatre as a concept as well.

For example, it began with an actor's monologue philosophising on how to begin a play. Does it begin when the actors put make-up on? Does it begin when they get into character?

And then, five acts follow, all jumping in and out of the story of Ihsane Jafri. The first act shows how non-professional actors are being interviewed by the rest of the ensemble, asking them questions like "Why do you want to participate in theatre?" or "Have you been nude on stage before?" or "What was the most extreme thing you have done in theatre?" And sure enough, there were non-professional actors in the play: a forklift operator as well as a dog-sitter. So yes, there's a part of this which blends fact and fiction quite perfectly.

Oh, it was also a very extreme play. There was nudity (of elderly people nonetheless), simulated torture and murder, a few naked bodies, and a urinating scene, where an actor actually pees on the nude body of a dead person (played by a living actor of course), facing the audience. This one definitely pushes the boundaries somewhat.

What was brilliant about it is that it has so many dimensions one can ponder about: the murder, the philosophy of theatre, social taboos, and many more. And even though it's a very serious tragedy with components of abstraction, there were nevertheless some moments of comedy.

Overall I had a great night. I am glad I went to see this play, and I am looking forward to more performances from this venue moving forward.


  1. Sounds very German to me. They are known for daring performances, aren't they? Or is it a French stereotype?

    1. Zhu,

      Hmm, I am not sure. The director is Swiss. The play was actually in Dutch and French (it was set in Belgium and played by Belgian actors I think). But I have seen a couple of other German theatre pieces and yes, they all feature nudity somehow. So maybe it is indeed a German thing, since Germans after all can be very exposing (there's FKK after all). In any case, it's definitely not something I could imagine would be normal in North America.