Review: Returning to Reims (HOME, Manchester) – Manchester International Festival

Bush Moukarzel & Ali Gadema in Returning to Reims Performed as part of Manchester International Festival 2017 © Jonathan-Keenan
Bush Moukarzel & Ali Gadema in Returning to Reims
Performed as part of Manchester International Festival 2017
© Jonathan-Keenan
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Returning to Reims marks a new chapter for director Thomas Ostermeier. Differing from his previous interpretations including A Dolls House (2003) and Hamlet (2007), Returning to Reims is the first time the German director has adapted a text which was not originally intended for performance.

The book, Returning to Reims, was published in 2009 by author Didier Eribon. Here, he looks back on his life in the wake of his father’s death in order to observe the working-class identity he rejected as an intellect, and as a gay man. His book is a memoir and a sociological study and one in which he tries to understand the wider working class culture, and its shift from the far left of the political spectrum to the far right. However, the production itself is not weighed down with heavy political jargon and knowledge.

Returning to Reims successfully tackles the resurgence of populist nationalism in Europe and class struggle through live action performance, video, sound, and narration. Ostermeier routinely chops and changes classic texts by a means of forcing them into the current day, he mockingly references this in the production through Bush Moukarzel who proclaims, “it’s multi-layered filmmaking – it’s my style!”

The play takes place in a dated recording studio where Homeland’s Nina Hoss reads a voiceover of Eribon’s memoirs for a documentary which observes the oppression of the working class and their struggle for a political voice. In doing so, Hoss also begins to reflect on her own background as the daughter of a union leader and activist. Her performance is breath-taking. I found the use of the recording of a documentary a beautiful way to tell someone else’s story. I also found that despite the lines being diegetically scripted in the scene, they were expressed thoughtfully and effortlessly, further captivating the audience.

The use of such a multi-layered approach to the production creates a simple narrative rooted in current, topical themes surrounding notions of tolerance and social justice. The production becomes even more relevant especially when taking into account the last 12-18 months.

Light relief to the production came in the form of Ali Gadema who played the disgruntled recording studio worker. Alongside the banter he shared with Moukarzel, Gadema also delivered a rap/spoken word performance with the audience. Although it contrasted greatly with the soft and arguably lucid narration delivered by Hoss, the rap itself was used to interact with the audience. Moukarzel acknowledged that there was an audience and even joined and sat with his audience below the stage, again, adding yet another layer to the production.

I felt the addition of the spoken word piece was cleverly done as today the rise of genres such as grime give artists the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings towards many things such as the government. Grime is also commonly heralded as a voice for the working class, did Moukarzel deliberately adopt this sentiment to further drive home his message?

Returning to Reims is a highly watchable, lucid, and intriguing play which pitched the past and present day against each other and in turn, highlighted that the stage can still be a venue for political and living debate. The German directed English-language dramatisation of the memoirs of a French sociologist makes a perfect addition to the Manchester International Festival.

-Elise Gallagher

Returning to Reims is being performed until 14th July 2017 at HOME, Manchester as part of Manchester International Festival.

REVIEW: Party Skills for the End of the World (Manchester International Festival – Centenary Building, Salford)

Party Skills for the End of the World. Manchester International Festival 2017 © Donald Christie
Party Skills for the End of the World.
Manchester International Festival 2017
© Donald Christie
upstaged rating:

If the world was close to its end -how would you spend your final hours?

Storm clouds are gathering as the world teeters on the edge. It’s time to look at all the good things in life – and the fear that stops us enjoying them…

Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari of Shunt Theatre have created this immersive, chaotic and high-spirited performance to help you get by when the end of the world is nigh. Party Skills for the End of the World asks us to celebrate our experiences and our individuality and resist the fear that stifles our enjoyment of living.

Party Skills for the End of the World is a site-specific show, set in the corridors, labs and vaults of Salford’s Centenary Building, which blurs the boundaries between performance and spectatorship. Who are the performers here and who are the audience? And arguably, one of the strengths of this show – is that you never really know.

Learn how to make a gas mask at Party Skills for the End of the World © Donald Christie
Learn how to make a gas mask at Party Skills for the End of the World
© Donald Christie

Strike up a conversation with a fellow party-goer as you learn the art of making the perfect martini; follow the lively crowd as you are ushered through corridors to the sound of the Latino beat. You’ve never hit a piñata? Well now is your chance. Learn how to stitch using a surgical needle. But don’t get too comfortable – it won’t be long until you transported further through the wild, vibrant but volatile performance space.

You might want to learn how to make a light bulb, throw a punch or navigate your way using the night sky. For well-being and relaxation, you may prefer to create a bouquet of paper flowers or indulge in a spot of balloon modelling. There’s a thought-provoking sermon flanked by drummers and dancing. This is intelligent, immersive performance on a grand scale.

Party Skills for the End of the World is an innovative experience and as a member of the audience – the more you contribute to the performance, the more you get out. The performance stays with you long after you have left the wild confines of the Centenary Building and certainly fuels a conversation that carries on long after the dancing has ended.

-Kristy Stott

Party Skills for the End of the World runs until 16th July 2017 and is being performed as part of Manchester International Festival 2017. Full listings for the festival can be found by clicking here.