MIF: Returning to Reims

The post show discussion at HOME of this MIF17 production is one of the best attended I’ve seen, testament to the power of the director, Thomas Ostermeier (of Schaubühne Berlin) and the author of the text that inspired the play, Didier Eribon.  Drawing parallels across France, Germany and the UK, Returning to Reims critically analyses the shift in working class political sentiment from left wing collectivism, especially communism, in the late sixties to right wing populism today.  In the late 1960s, left wing politics embraced immigration.  Today these are the very same groups that right wing populism now rejects.   As Thomas says, ‘We dream of individuality, being unique, but we’re not’.

The story at the heart of this play is that of Didier Eribon returning home when his father dies, to discover that his family have switched allegiance from communism to Marine Le Pen’s Front National.  Initially describing his parents and their working class background and his struggle with his sexuality in a small town, the story is narrated live on stage by the captivating Nina Hoss.  The setting is a sound recording studio, purposely neither slick nor modern.  As Nina records her voiceover, the original film plays in the background, adding texture to the story.  We see the places Didier inhabited.

Why does the concept work?  Why does the set work?  Large sections of the play feature only Nina recording her narration with the film playing behind.  But the play is much more than the film.  The sound dynamics are clever and the liveness makes it work.  The film is good but ultimately just a backdrop for the production.  It is the presence of Nina that makes the difference, and the fact that she has clear views on the topics she is narrating.  At times it heads into tricky ground especially the middle section asking whether those that are successful under the current system are evil, or just successful.  But it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise brilliant production.

Nina discusses her own father, a communist who sticks to his beliefs whilst the world around him changes.  He founds the Green Party, then works in Brazil; he tries to find alternative politics.  It’s consistent with the writings of say John Holloway.  In a world that has adopted neoliberalism since the early 80s, is there a better way now?  Can activists still change the world?

Intellectually stimulating, visually rich and beautifully presented, this is the sort of production that Manchester International Festival excels at.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Keenan

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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