Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Capital – La Raffinerie/Charleroi Danses, Brussels

[seen 20/10/15]

Capital is an adaptation for stage of French economist Thomas Picketty’s recent required-reading book Capital in the 21st Century, by the Croatian director Ivica Buljan (whose Macbeth After Shakespeare by Heiner Müller and Quay West I saw at the Almada Festival in 2013).

I’m not surprised by someone adapting a 1,000-page book of economic theory for the stage. Rimini Protokoll did Marx’s Kapital *years ago* (they’re onto Mein Kampf now, which sounds really interesting. (It goes to HAU in January.)), although I wonder if I’d bridle slightly at calling it “an adaptation”; it's more “a selection of very personal responses to...”. In fact, weirdly, having seen so many “straight” page-to-stage stagings of non-written-for-theatre texts recently, I wonder if I was actually surprised at the extent to which this seemed to contain less *actual text from the book* than I’d expected.

In spirit, Capital isn’t unlike [comparison for UK readers] a youth theatre version of A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts/Show Five (not that Secret Theatre had any older actors either). Sadly, visually, it’s less look at: there’s an empty stage, (apart from) three (underused) tables near the back, the odd chair, and at one point a *really impressive* stack of plastic beakers. I guess my reservation comes more from the fact that the large dance stage of La Raffinerie is totally closed down into an intimate thrust stage by the addition of a single line of chairs right in the middle of the stage creating a little playing space in the middle of the bigger one. (Imagine them doing Show Five like that on the small stage of Sadler’s Wells and with the majority of the audience still in the stalls. But tis is just me deploring thrust stages again. Christ I hate them.)

The cast is large (20), but staggeringly underused. Mostly the piece consists of solos/monologues, occasionally more, any everyone else sitting assembly-style on the floor. I should just accept it as such, but it is difficult to resist a sense that more could have been done with 20 performers. (But I also don’t know the method by which the piece was assembled. Perhaps separately? Perhaps each performer was allotted a set number of pages/chapter/s to cover in whatever way.)

In fact, despite more or less the whole piece being in English, it still felt like it would have been really useful to have had something more like a roadmap of what was going on. That said, I think part of my discomfort/confusion was just to do with expectation vs actuality. A slight case of, having not known what to expect, filling in some blanks incorrectly and then being surprised when they failed to materialise.

I’ve now spent a few days with the piece knocking about my head to be thought about, and while the detail has consequently evaporated (in a way it didn’t with, say, Ten Billion), I think I’ve got more of a handle on what the piece was up to.

In fact, I *think*, and I could be wrong about this, but *I think* the large, rambling structure (three hours straight through, strangely watchable, never boring) is a response to what is made explicit at the end. That Picketty’s conclusion to Capital is pretty flawed. His faith in a “democratic” Europe just sorting out inequality is no kind of ending for the book at all. Like it points out all the problems, and all the reasons why they’ve grown up, and then imagines they can all be magicked away by pretty much the exact same institutions and organisations that caused them (encouraged them, even) to flourish in the first place. It’s a pretty reasonable analysis. Picketty isn’t a radical, after all. As Wikipedia puts it “the book argues that unless capitalism is reformed, the very democratic order will be threatened..”

It’s interesting, as with the work seen at BITEF this year (also by mostly ex-Yugoslavian directors), it seems that the consensus in leftist circles in mainland Europe is that “democracy” is a joke word now. Perhaps it always was, or at least was, once they started experiencing it as a reality, rather than the idealised, propagandised version sold during the cold war. Of course, this will doubtless sound somewhat “extreme” for many in Britain, to whom the mild left-leaning democratic liberal Jeremy Corbyn is currently being sold as The Most Left-Wing Thing Imaginable. And, indeed, our cultural memory in Britain does seen to be short-circuited; to the extent that it’s almost impossible to remember what Facebook looked like before it’s last redesign, which we all hated for about three days too. Christ knows what level of effort would be needed to remember what an actual spread of different political ideas look like.

So, yes. As a piece of theatre it has definitely grown on me (since I stopped having to sit still and be quiet for three hours. Often the way). And the more I read of and about Capital..., the more I see what parts of the show were driving at. On the other hand, while impossible to condense and deliver 1,000 pages satisfactorily in three hours, it feels like there are many, many more adaptations of Capital in the 21st Century to come, but it feels like they need to come soon, so we’ve all got that down before better books that we can properly get behind come along.

In fact, HA! perhaps this is in fact the staging of the world’s longest bad review of a book rather than the book itself...

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