With 'The 120 Days of Sodom', Milo Rau continues to investigate the question of what is depictable on stage. It’s a reflection on today's postmodern society, which balances between hedonism and doom, between 'just be normal' and the petty-bourgeois lust for scandal. An unforgettable drama about the (ab)normality and value of life, staged with actors with intellectual disabilities.
'The 120 Days of Sodom' was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last film. In the Republic of Saló – the last refuge of some fascist regime – young women and men are kidnapped and held prisoners in a castle by four representatives of a declining totalitarian regime. In a series of sadistically debauched rituals, the young people are abused, humiliated, and finally tortured to death in an orgy of violence.
Pasolini’s adaptation of a book by the Marquis de Sade has been read as a criticism of a social rule that has replaced the fascist system: the modern consumer society, including the normalization of excess and the constant optimization of humans. Milo Rau's eponymous production navigates between a poetic interpretation and a very direct, disturbing appropriation of the works of his predecessors, bringing them to the heart of the political and ethical contradictions of today’s Europe.
So-called professional actors – the French newcomer Olga Mouak, Flemish actor-director Koen de Sutter and Swiss theatre icon Robert Hunger-Bühler - question their colleagues from Theater Stap, a Flemish company for actors with intellectual disabilities. What do we consider normal and who decides? Why do we preach the diverse, the individual and the deviant – but suppress everything that does not conform to the norm?
Gradually, the questioning turns into a game as brutal and perverse as it is satirical. Humanism and cruelty, beauty and disgust become entangled, to the point of unbearability. Are we, more tolerant and sensitive than all previous societies, perhaps the true fascists?
Photo credit: Toni Suter - T+T Fotografie