Festival Theatre


Royal Lyceum Theatre

Neil Cooper

Five stars

“We are waiting for a signal,” actor Matthieu Sampeur says to the audience as he and the rest of the cast wander the stage on the Sunday night performance of Brazilian director Christiane Jatahy’s Edinburgh International Festival run of her remarkable reimagining of Lars von Trier’s 2003 film, Dogville.

Given that film’s inherent theatricality, as von Trier’s cast played out the story of one woman’s unannounced arrival in a small American town on a bare stage with only chalk floor markings indicating the setting, such a nod to the artifice of life onstage is perhaps unsurprising.

As Sampeur and the rest of the ten-strong ensemble eye up the cheap seats waiting for things to begin, however, here, at least, he might just mean what he says. Then again, Sampeur introduces himself as Tom, who, as anyone who has seen Dogville will know, is the story’s male lead.

Whatever, nothing is hidden in anything that follows, as Tom and co set out their store by explaining how Jatahy’s reinvention looks to the now deposed right wing regime in her home country to tell a story of otherness.

What follows, as the woman, Grace, is plucked from the theatre stalls, shows how those seeking sanctuary from whatever has caused them to exile themselves can be demonised, brutalised and outlawed, and how once sane communities can turn hostile.

What this mercifully means on stage in this international production led by the Geneva based Comedie de Geneve company is no flat-footed polemic, but a wildly inventive deconstruction that mixes up live action and film to create an increasingly troubling spectacle that leaves everyone exposed.

Film footage writ large on the big screen becomes increasingly out of synch with the live action as the community splinters. As a Brazilian woman stepping into an alien world, Julia Bernat’s Grace becomes a symbol of how ugly things can turn once fake news is believed. Despite this radical reworking, Jatahy’s audacious burl of a show gives an even rawer edge to an already brutal meditation on how everyday power and privilege can lead to tribalist hysteria.