That Urwintore wish to bring genocide to the stage is unsurprising; the Rwandan troupe have survived it, and bring first-hand experience.
What theatre-goers may find unusual is that they do so in terms of the Jewish Holocaust, presenting Peter Weiss’ The Investigation: a dramatic rendering of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials.
The juxtaposition is provocative. The faces, the voices, the songs are all at odds with the words as spoken; yet distancing though this is it suggests a more profound, deeper link. The play oscillates, drawing us in and pushing us away.
Translated from Weiss’ original German, The Investigation is performed in French with English surtitles. These are projected onto two large screens, which effectively competing with the actors on-stage are themselves drawn into the action.
With even a rudimentary understanding of French, one can discern mistiming and abbreviation in the titles. Whilst these are hardly deliberate, they contribute to a wider textual-interplay indeed, two or three scenes into the work a scenario is given in Kinyarwanda, without accompaniment. The uninitiated must make do with body-language and expression if they are to take cognisance, at least until the sequence is repeated a la mode.
Many a postmodern play has confronted its audience with the failure of language: in itself this is nothing new. But Urwintore rather than exposing some horrible, nihilistic void at the centre of it all speak convincingly of universal truth. It is arrogant, we are told, to assume that these extremes of evil cannot be fully understood or assimilated into cultural life; we cannot hide behind the supposition that genocide is a quirk of circumstance or context, an anomaly or aberration of some towering but largely imagined natural order.
Difference, in language and circumstance, is conspicuously exaggerated, and thus expunged; it’s the same, as Jarvis Cocker bewails, from Auschwitz to Ipswich.
All these elements feed into the theme of responsibility, or its avoidance. The characters being prosecuted relentlessly claim misidentification: it was always somebody else, even if physical involvement were conceded.
For all its minimalism, the production swells to fill this enormous theatre. The refurbished main-stage is monumental, and in The Investigation it finds its match. The play feels that important.