Neil Cooper

On the face of it, Tim Crouch and Milo Rau have very different approaches to theatre. This should become very clear in new shows by these two mavericks taking part separately in Edinburgh International Festival’s You Are Here strand.

Crouch’s magnificently named Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, is a typically Crouchian piece of meta theatre, which involves the audience taking part in the show by way of a book handed to them as they enter the auditorium. Rau’s La Reprise, presented by Swiss-born Rau’s provocatively named International Institute of Political Murder company, is a dark documentary take on a real life murder in Belgium which brings together a mix of professional and non-professional performers.

As with all theatre, the truth of both shows comes from utilising different forms of artifice. Rau’s piece even bears the subtitle, Histoire(s) du theatre (1). As this suggests, it forms the first part of a long-term performative investigation into theatre. In the case of La Reprise, it questions how violence and other traumatic events can be depicted onstage.

“We found the story by accident,” says Lau of La Reprise’s true crime drama about a man tortured and killed by a group of young men outside a gay club in Liege. “We were thinking about what to do, and one of the company read about it. The crime was very intriguing, because there was no motivation. It was reported in some places as a homophobic murder, and we could have made a simple play against homophobia, but it’s more complex than that. The young men who killed the man had no plan. It was completely senseless, and that’s why it’s so tragic. You could compare it to Oedipus killing his father.”

What emerges from this is a detective story of sorts that investigates theatre itself as much as the story that unfolds. Such lines of inquiry have been similarly central to much of Crouch’s work over the last decade or so. Where shows he’s brought to Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows including My Arm, An Oak Tree and The Author have played with notions of reality and the relationship between those on and off stage, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation takes things further, with an illustrated book playing a key part in the show.

“Every audience member is given a book as they enter the theatre,” Crouch says. “The lights are on, and people look at the illustrations in the book to learn the play’s back story. There’s a younger woman onstage, and an older women watching her, and the actors take over, but at points we go back to the illustrations, and together, we make our way through the story.

“The impetus for the play was to write about belief. I don’t want to write about Christianity or Islam, but about why people believe in something despite empirical evidence to the contrary. In terms of theatre, we might be told that Maxine Peake or Andrew Scott are Hamlet, and we believe that even though we know they’re not.”

The truths in La Reprise may or may not be more literal in ways that have arguably been the case since Rau formed International Institute of Political Murder company in 2007. Since then, more than 50 stage productions have been created. Beyond theatre, Rau and his collaborators have made films, hosted exhibitions and published books and manifestos. Part of this is to avoid being didactic, and as Rau says, referring to Danish film-makers Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s mid 1990s statement of intent, any manifesto produced by him “isn’t like Dogme. All the directors I work with are completely different aesthetically, so while I’m making a political statement, I don’t want to impose my ideas on people. The core for me is what happens in the performance. Theatre for me shouldn’t be about giving political advice. Yes, write a manifesto, but preaching onstage doesn’t work, so it’s better to outsource it in other ways.”

In this sense, while La Reprise draws from a real situation, it doesn’t seek to recreate it verbatim. This is something Rau made clear to the family of the murdered man.

“It’s based on what happened,” he says, “but a play is a play, and will be different. The family are emotionally intelligent people, and understand that. We don’t try to solve the crime. It’s about someone getting killed and why, and that’s it. Our conception of the play is very dark, but I think there is light at the end.”

While Crouch similarly doesn’t want to impose things on an audience, he nevertheless recognises some of the very current things he’s looking at.

“I think it’s quite a political piece,” he says. “It sounds glib, but I think it’s about the patriarchy, and how men run things in a way that’s a not too distant a cousin to The Author. There is a man controlling the experience, and at the end his authority is profoundly challenged. One of the things behind the play is how we submit to a certain narrative, and how that narrative controls our belief systems.”

La Reprise, Edinburgh International Festival @ Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 3-5, 8-9.40pm, August 4, 2-3.40pm. Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, Edinburgh International Festival @ The Studio, August 7-25 (not 12, 19, 21, 24), 8-9.20pm, August 10, 11, 14, 17, 21, 22, 24, 25, 3-4.20pm.