I became very interested in Milo Rau's theatre-making during the lockdowns, when I was able to see several of his pieces online. Lenin, The Last Days of the Ceausescus, La Reprise, Orestes in Mosul, The New Gospel... all very remarkable. And I read the text of Compassion - The History of the Machine Gun too. Wish I'd seen it. But online theatre only goes so far, and the experience of seeing Hate Radio live at BAC last week took my admiration for this extraordinary director to another level. It was terrifying.
The piece has been described very well in lots of reviews, so I won't go into detail here. For those who want to read more about the show, I particularly recommend this blog by Lily Climenhaga, who like me arrived at the performance from a position of some knowledge, and was perhaps even more stunned by the work as a result. As Lily explains, the performance is received in a number of distinct ways. You listen to the broadcast from RTLM as the original audience in Rwanda would have done, via your personal radio set with headphones: an experience that is oddly personal and intimate. At the same time, you watch the people who are broadcasting - distanced from you in a perspex box. By contrast with the audio experience, the visual one is cold and detached. You observe the movement of the silent soldier who continually tidies the space and offers snacks and drinks to the presenters. You see the maps and posters with which they surround themselves. You watch them dance along to the pop songs they play, you see the shoulder holster revealed when Kantano Habimana takes off his smart jacket, you suddenly notice the pistol sitting casually on the sound engineer's desk. When Valérie Bemeriki comes close to losing all self-control in one of her diatribes against the "cockroach" Tutsis, you can see her and her fellow presenters "dealing with it" in their various ways during the cheery song that follows - but you can't hear what they're saying. Through this combination of involvement and detachment, the performance at once draws you in to the apparent light entertainment of the radio station, and fills you with horrified fascination at the outpouring of invective that it unleashed.
|Hate Radio in Kigali|
The performance was perhaps even more telling, even more necessary, in the week when 16 year old Ralph Yarl had been shot in the head by Andrew Lester when he accidentally went to the wrong house in Kansas City's Northland, while trying to pick up his younger brothers. Andrew Lester is an older white man: Ralph Yarl is Black. Lester's grandson Klint Ludwig has given a frank and telling account of how his grandfather has become entangled in the invective and deceit of populist media, particularly Trump's adored Fox News. "He’s become staunchly right-wing, further down the right-wing rabbit hole as far as doing the election-denying conspiracy stuff and COVID conspiracies and disinformation, fully buying into the Fox News, OAN kind of line.” Ludwig says his grandfather had been immersed in “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia.... It’s stock Fox News, conservative American stuff. It’s ‘anybody who gets an abortion is a murderer.’ And ‘fatherless Black families are the reason why crime exists in this country.’ ”
There's very little distance between Rwanda's Hate Radio and America's Fox News.