ICA, London SW1
Opened 10 June, 2004
*** / **

Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal leave the helm of the London International Festival of Theatre with a month-long programme entitled LIFT 04: Enquiry. The theme is simple: "What is theatre to you?" Events include a series of individual oral testimonies from "evidencers" ranging from performance artist Bobby Baker to documentarist Roger Graef and British Council chair Baroness Helena Kennedy, as well as performances from the likes of Romeo Castellucci's company and this pair of works from Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué.

Although the events are separately ticketed, in effect Biokhraphia is a 30-minute curtain-raiser. It's a clever piece of performance art in which artist and performer Lina Saneh is interviewed by her own tape-recorded voice about art, Lebanese society, censorship and truth. Gradually Saneh-onstage takes Saneh-on-tape's questioning into more abstruse areas and begins to execute her own performance as well as simply exchanging words with her avatar.

Intriguing though not riveting, it is nevertheless more successful in the games it plays with simple theatricality of spoken testimony than its fellow piece, Looking For A Missing Employee. I cannot but feel guilty at this verdict, since the latter is an account of the real-life disappearance and ultimate murder of Lebanese civil servant Ra'fat Sleiman. Mroué pieced together Sleiman's story from newspapers, and indeed simply sits at a table and recounts the chronicle to us with the help of news cuttings.

Well, not simply. He is sitting towards the back of the auditorium, whilst his image is projected onto a screen behind a desk onstage. To the right, an overhead shot shows us his hand gestures and, when he opens his scrapbooks, the original cuttings; to the left, another pair of hands writes and draws on a whiteboard various notes about the murky saga which led Sleiman to be accused of embezzling billions of Lebanese pounds (though they could never settle on how many billions) from the Ministry of Finance and which threw up connections in all walks of public life.

It both is and isn't an imaginative approach to the material. Mroué reimagines the uncomplicated spoken account with these various augmentations, but never departs from the fundamental basis that he is a man sitting at a desk delivering a kind of report. Can something this simple be theatre? Yes, I think so. Just not particularly riveting theatre.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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