It’s often said that theatre can’t compete with real life – what theatrical event could match the impact of the attack on the World Trade Centre? But this ground-breaking show by German experimental group Rimini Protokoll combines elements of theatre and news coverage by examining how news stories are reported across the world. Rimini Protokoll is a group set up by joint directors Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel whose trademark is how people interact during their normal workin day - in this case, journalists.
It’s a show that has previously been seen only in Germany and Austria so it’s a bit of coup for Brighton Festival to host the first English-language premiere. The format is a simple: eight people (a mix of journalists and interpreters) stand in front of a bank of TV sets which show news programmes from around the world: the BBC and German news channels interspersed with news shows from Iceland, the Middle East, Latin America, India, Pakistan and Russia (a French channel should have been included as well but a technical fault prevented this).
It’s interesting that no US channel – apart from one aimed at American troops - is featured . This means that we don’t get any US-centric views of the world. It’s an impressive list of channels, although it’s sad that no room is found for any African channel. It doesn’t sound that enthralling but it is. It’s fascinating getting a glimpse of how news is reported and interpreted in different countries and it’s illuminating to see that, for all our talk of a global village, national news remains just that, national. Only one news item made it on to more than one satellite channel - President Obama meeting Pakistan and Afghan leaders – the rest of the time was spent looking at more parochial issues: floods in Brazil, the Icelandic cash crisis, celebrations to mark Russia’s defeat of Germany, the Indian cricket league etc.
The performers, if one can call them that, also try to introduce some more theatrical elements into the show; a news editor plays a trumpet, a journalist stands on his head but these rather detract from the event.
The current news commentaries are contrasted with Aeschylus’s Persians - the arrival of the messenger telling the story of the Persian defeat at Salamis being described as the world’s first news report. It's here that the lack of performing expertise is most exposed. What could have been an interesting exercise is let down by the uneven reading - the fact that none of the performers has English as a first language certainly counts against them.
Obviously, playing with live news means that every show is different but it’s an eye-opening approach to the nature of news gathering and a fascinating evening.