The Rwandan genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were butchered, has been the subject of powerful, principled films (Hotel Rwanda, Shooting Dogs) and a play (a fine drama, The Awakening, recently mounted by Out of Joint at the National). Here, though, it is evoked implicitly and with an eloquently tacit sense of desperate but dignified fellow-feeling by a company of Rwandan artists who are recreating a Nazi war-crimes trial in a piece that's a condensed adaptation by Jean Baudrillard of The Investigation, Peter Weiss's celebrated verbatim account of a real courtroom drama.
People who go to this production expecting something like a Tricycle-type tribunal play will be in for a shock, and not just because proceedings are conducted in French with English surtitles. The style of the staging – conceived and directed by Dorcy Rugamba and Isabelle Gyselinx, designed by Fabienne Damiean – is spare to the point of chic abstraction. Wearing elegant cream suits, the performers take up diagrammatically expressive positions on a set starkly bare save for a couple of skeletal witness stands. The casting is a jumble so that each actor gets to play defendants, accusers, judges, jury and audience members. The approach is at the opposite pole from the Tricycle's documentary realism.
I'm not sure much is achieved by communicating the harrowing evidence in such aestheticised circumstances. The Rwandan actors are excellent; the emotion is never forced and is all the more moving for being so contained, with periodic eruptions as the defendants insist that they were only carrying out orders in a war against an outside enemy.
This version of The Investigation works towards a denouement that trains a glaring light on a terrible ideological split between those who, with guilty defensiveness, say the atrocity is beyond human comprehension and those who want to force people to focus on the excruciating fact that "the society that gave rise to the camps is our society".
The feeling that these performers have a moral right to this material was uncomfortably mixed for me with a sense that I would have preferred to hear them talking about their own experience in testimonies that bore direct witness to Rwanda's piteous suffering.
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