Theatre Royal, Brighton
  Opened 7 May, 2009

This is German company Rimini Protokoll's first visit to Britain. They ought to be massively influential here, existing as they do at the confluence of two hot theatrical trends. On the one hand, there is the multimedia "showing how it's done" aesthetic being embraced by director Katie Mitchell and others, with sound and video effects being visibly controlled from onstage; on the other, the increasingly popular verbatim theatre, in which real people are depicted in their own words. But Rimini go further: they use the people themselves. I have previously seen Rimini shows involving a Korean-born woman adopted by a German couple perform a piece about her search for a satisfactory identity, and a group of elderly Swiss model-railway enthusiasts sharing their passion with the audience. There is little or no artifice in the performance of these "theatre experts"; the show is built around them, with video and other technical effects being conspicuously added.
In Breaking News, a real-life news video editor sits at a console through which she controls live satellite feeds and relays them to racks of screens onstage. The programming is news from a variety of countries, each being translated onstage by a professional interpreter. We see today's news from Russia, Iceland, the Indian sub-continent, South America and the Middle East, together with B.B.C. Worldwide and the German programme Tagesschau, the last with sardonic interpretation from a media analyst who notes that the show's viewing figures peak at the weather forecast and demonstrates how he regains perspective on news programming by watching it whilst standing on his head. For this is about the transformation of news into a branch of entertainment, and the way we watch it critically or uncritically but seldom with any depth or real engagement. The news feeds are interspersed with first-person biographical snippets and, in a move of genius, passages from Aeschylus' The Persians, a dramatic tragedy which at the time of writing was effectively a piece of current-affairs theatre and is sometimes indistinguishable from 21st-century commentary.
At just over two uninterrupted hours, the work is too long for British sensibilities; it is also frequently baggy, but then, so is life. By showing us reality, simultaneously framed on a stage and yet unfiltered through conventions of dramatic shaping, Rimini Protokoll do what the best theatre always does: force us to re-examine what it means to be ourselves.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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