Part of Edinburgh International Festival, famed film and theatre director Christiane Jatahy’s new production Dusk is not exactly a remake of Lars Von Trier’s 2003 movie Dogville – more a revisiting of its themes. It somehow seems to have more relevance in today’s social media-driven political chaos.
In a chatty opening, the Brazilian cast stroll around, joshing with the audience in their own language, creating a chummy connection, while their translated dialogue appears in supertitles. This is the first clue that all is not as it seems, since this apparently-improvised chat must have been prepared in advance. They create a discussion about Dogville, and how the scenario – where a community turns on an innocent immigrant – wouldn’t happen now. We are much too sophisticated and international in our thinking to treat innocents in such closed minded ways. Our lead character Tom sets out a challenge to test his theory. He calls for a volunteer, and a young woman called Graca steps out from the audience to become the alien in their midst. With the new arrival onstage the team begin to replay elements of the movie, in search of an alternative ending.
The staging is enhanced with creative use of a massive cinema screen which projects the onstage scenes in full colour via a video camera which is shunted around by various cast members while they work.
Initially Graca is accepted by the community. They set about building relationships. Parties break out, work opportunities are offered. She is novel and fun. A bright new kid on the block. Then some characters start to worry that they don’t know enough about her. What’s her angle? Why is she here? Micro-aggressions arise and jealousies begin to surface. Responses to problems become sharper, more vicious. Over time Marca is pushed from friend to slave, love interest to concubine, innocent to crooked.
At these moments, a sense of disembodiment is created when action on the screen disengages from the live onstage movements. Characters appear to be in different places, and their expressions onscreen are not what we see live. At times children appear beneath tables and on bikes, yet we can’t see them on stage. It’s a disorientating trick which evokes the sense of dislocation experienced by Graca. The alternative video story takes on a separate life. This signals a change in mood among the community and we appear to be entering a very dark turn of events.
Emerging themes of victim-blaming, citizenship, modern slavery, racism and xenophobia take on extra resonance as the characters see themselves as ordinary citizens doing what’s best for their community. But their slow collapse into cruelty reveals a very thin skin between civility and chaos. It’s somehow no surprise that the change in Graca’s fortunes is signalled by a piece of fake news, an all too familiar trope in our tech-driven age.
As the piece reaches its horrific finale the audience is shocked into a stunned silence. But the victim is allowed the last word by invoking a speech about dark actors and how they can weaponise a community’s seemingly petty complaints. A stark warning of where we as a society might be heading.
The cast are exceptionally talented with brilliant musicians and singers among them, while the technical sleight of hand – flipping reality to another version of truth – is a truly stunning piece of original theatre.
With thanks to Malcolm McGonigle for this review.