Critical dispute over “Family” / Milo Rau stages “Antigone in the Amazon” / Dramaturge Congress in Ghent

Probably no play by Milo Rau has met with, at once, such passionate praise and vehement condemnation as “Family”, which premiered on 4 January 2020 at NTGent. In it, a real family portrays a family that, for mysterious reasons, commits suicide – thereby calling the meaning of life itself into question. Britain’s The Guardian saw in it a “dar, secular mass” which is “performed at the stately pace of a slow piece of Bach” and awarded it five out of five stars. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported an evening of “poetic power” that confronted the viewer “with the riddles of the world,” experienced a “drama of incredible psychological density,” Libération witnessed the rise of “horror out of the hyper-everyday,” Focus Knack’s critic left the theatre “weeping”. Le Soir summed up its response with the words: “Milo Rau’s scalpel strikes again” and De Trouw wrote: “That is the magic of theatre and the elusive reality in one. Rarely has the incomprehensible been so impressively translated into theatre.


But some found in the “harrowing performance” (De Volkskrant) little consolation for the production’s “nihilistic” (De Morgen) subject matter. While The New York Times endured a hit “presciently close to home” and rekto:verso recognised “this family [as] all of humanity,” the German weekly DIE ZEIT asked whether the “dark alternative to Fridays for Future: Future for Nobody” is not “perhaps even a sin.” On behalf of many viewers, De Standaard posed the question, “Has Milo Rau gone too far this time?” Upon which the French author Edouard Louis, in the same newspaper, defended the production, saying: “The core of the theatre is the same as in literature: to show that which is difficult to show. Theatre shouldn’t be a safe place.Milo Rau himself will face his critics on 25 January in a public debate at NTGent, before the play goes on tour to Paris, Berlin, Zurich, New York and many other places.


If “Family” is Rau’s most intimate play to date, preparations are already running at full speed for what is probably his most political piece thus far: “Antigone in the Amazon”. Together with indigenous people, activists and actors, Sophocles’s “Antigone” is being created anew on a squatted piece of land in Brazil’s Amazon basin: as a bloody clash between traditional wisdom and global turbo-capitalism, as an epos of humanity’s struggle against its self-inflicted decline into greed, delusion and hubris. For the first time in the history of the theatre, an indigenous actress is to be seen in the role of Antigone, the chorus of the tragedy consists of survivors of the heretofore largest massacre of landless people by the Brazilian police, and Tiresias is played by the legendary South American actor and activist Zé Celso. The production is to premiere on 17 April 2020 on an occupied federal highway through the Amazon – the day and location of the massacre.


But before Rau’s team travels to the Amazon, they are inviting the public to NTGent one more time. Under the title “Common. Allies, Activists and Alternatives in European Theatre”, the annual conference of the Dramaturgische Gesellschaft (Dramaturgs’ Society) is being held in Ghent, “the city that is setting a programmatic course to become a kind of future laboratory of the European theatre.” From 6 to 9 February, several hundred artists, activists and intellectuals will debate the topics resistance and participation, institutional restructuring and political and artistic revolt. Plays, performances and operas from, among others, Luanda Casella, Dalilla Hermans, Ersan Mondtag, Action Zoo Humain and Milo Rau will be staged. This marks the first time in 25 years that the annual conference is to be held abroad. It additionally serves as the exclusive occasion for the appearance of NTGent’s fourth “Golden Book”, in collaboration with the Berlin publishing house Verbrecher Verlag. Titled The Art of Resistance”, this reader on global practices of resistance is edited by Stefan Bläske, Luanda Casella, Milo Rau and Lara Staal.