Edinburgh International Festival: You Are Here puts spotlight on our troubled times

With cutting-edge work from around the world, You Are Here aims for immediacy.

La Reprise recreates a particularly random Belgian murder in documentary style. Picture:EIF

If the programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival feels more varied, more diverse and more cutting edge than usual, it’s probably because of You Are Here. Curated by producer Kate McGrath and running for the next four years, it brings together theatre, dance and music – and a number of productions which don’t fit neatly into any category.

You Are Here brings theatre company 1927 back to the Edinburgh International Festival with their new production Roots, blending folk-tales from around the world with their trademark silent movie aesthetic, and festival debuts for Fringe stalwart Tim Crouch with his latest live experiment, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, and spoken word artist Kate Tempest. A parallel programme of talks, discussions and events called The Departure Lounge extends the whole event into a conversation.

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Or Nigeria, for writer and director Ifeoma Fafunwa, who says she never expected her show, Hear, Word!, about the injustices faced by Nigerian women, to reach the major stages of Europe and the United States.

“I designed the project to travel,” she says, “but I was always thinking of the African diaspora, not an audience of 1,000 people in Germany. Then I realised, with #MeToo, this work had a much wider audience.”

She determined from the outset that the show would be full of vitality and music, and the ten women – all stars of stage and screen in Nigeria – would pull no punches. As well as a collection of true stories, it would be a wake-up call. “To empower women I needed to get women to look at how they sustain the patriachy. If they would stop gossiping about other women, or waking up their daughter an hour before their son to iron his school uniform and make his breakfast, the transformation could [start to] happen. I knew I had to make it highly entertaining for all these messages to be soaked up.”

If she had concerns that true stories drawn from African experience – child marriages, families which traffick their own daughters, widows made to sit and weep on their husband’s graves – would not speak to western audiences, the dynamism of the production pointed to bigger themes. “When #MeToo happened all these women in America started talking,” she says. “I realised, these people are not that far away from us at all.”

Swiss-born Milo Rau, one of most admired and provocative directors in Europe, is another guest at You Are Here, bringing his company International Institute of Political Murder to perform La Reprise (The Repetition). Now running NTGent, one of Belgium’s major theatres, Rau is committed to a radical manifesto about making new work using contemporary stories, while much of the European theatrical establishment is churning out endless adaptations of the classics. The challenge, he says, is “how to reflect what we’re really living in”.

La Reprise is a documentary-style recreation of the story of Ihsane Jarfi, who got into a car outside a gay club in Liège in 2012 and was found two weeks later having been tortured and murdered. The company worked in collaboration with Jarfi’s family and conducted interviews with his former partner and lawyers, as well as with one of the perpetrators of the crime.

Rau says one of his aims in the play is to “stage a modern tragedy”. He was drawn to Jarfi’s story because of the meaninglessness of what happened to him. He says: “I asked an advocate I know: ‘Can you tell me a case in Belgium that was tragic, which happened out of coincidence, there was no reason why the person had to die?’ and he said, ‘This is the case.’”

He says the production taps into some of the fundamental questions of Greek tragedy: why does violence happen, how can you stage it, what is the outcome of staging it again and again, what do we learn from it? At the same time, he describes La Reprise as a “monument” to Jarfi, whose death shocked the nation.

Again, the particular becomes universal. “We have played in Australia, Latin America, Taiwan, places where no-one knows that story. I think the more concrete you get, the more universal the story can become. Everybody understands what happened that night, what it means to lose your son in that way.”

Hear Word!, The Lyceum, 19-20 and 22-25 August; La Reprise, The Lyceum, 3-5 August, 0131-473 2000/www.eif.co.uk