Resistance [by James Wenley]
About half-way through Manifesto 2083, actor Edwin Wright, playing actor Olaf Højgaard, begins to chuckle. “Was this your goal?” he asks the image of Anders Behring Brevik, attached to a pinboard behind him. In creating Manifesto 2083, Danish theatre makers Christian Lolike, Tanja Diers and Højgaard were exposing Brevik’s manifesto, his ideology and his words, to a wider audience. The Rebel Alliance’s production has now spread his manifesto to New Zealand. Is there a danger in drawing further attention to his beliefs?
Brevik’s 1500 page manifesto was distributed prior to his attack on members of the Worker’s Youth League on the island of Utøjya, where he killed 77 people and wounded 200. How do you make theatre out of such an atrocity? Should you? One month after the July 22, 2011 attack, the company announced they were making a play about it, and it became, as the program states, “one of the most controversial Danish plays in recent history”. We’re recently seen one dramatic response here in Auckland: David Greig’s The Events. In that play, if you hadn’t read the supporting material, you may not have realised that Utøjya was the inciting inspiration. It is defamiliarised, even universalised, so it becomes the unspeakable “event”. In Manifesto 2083, the events on Utøjya are recounted with a sickening matter-of-factness. The Events ask what sort of person would do this, but its journey is of a survivor and if it is possible to come to some sort of acceptance. Manifesto demands to know what sort of person would do this – and it asks it again, and again, and again. It is a chilling and challenging character study, without any of the catharsis that The Events provides.
Our way into Manifesto 2083 is the actor’s journey of Olaf Højgaard – his morbid fascination with the subject, and the attempt to understand and inhabit Brevik as an actor might with any other character. Wright as Højgaard reads extracts from Brevik’s text and attempts to articulate his thesis. We are exposed to his extreme islamophobia, his hatred for cultural Marxists and multiculturalists, and his belief that protesting is not enough – only resistance shows that you are willing to “put a stop to this”. All very disturbing. But what is also disturbing are the moments of levity in the text – his farcical incompetence in trying to ground down fertiliser pellets to make a bomb, or his observations about his friends. Is it okay to laugh? I keep my jaw clenched, but others laugh around me. Hojgaard’s account becomes one of obsession. He wants to “see the world through his eyes” and “enter his darkness”. The actor goes full method, isolating himself, living like Brevik would, trying to get closer.
Edwin Wright is up for the task. He begins the play super casual, rocking up to the stage while the house lights are still on. He is a gentle and reasonable guide into the darkness, and his early performance welcomes us in, and makes us feel we will be kept safe. What’s remarkable is the slow transformation that Wright undergoes, until it is no longer Wright as Hojgaard reporting Brevik’s text, but Wright as Brevik himself.
Exacting direction by Anders Falstie-Jensen and lighting design by Ruby Reihanna-Wilson give strong support to Wright, ensuring the beats of the play are delivered with maximum impact and disconcerting intimacy.
Throughout this play I felt rage, extremely discomfort, nervousness, fright, powerlessness, fascination. At several points, not least Brevik’s account of July 22, I wanted it to stop. This is not an easy watch, but a necessary one. Some would categorise Brevik as a lone wolf. But as it is demonstrated in the play, his discourse connects with ideologies expressed by far-right wing parties throughout Europe with significant electoral support. And yes, his manifesto has the potential to further radicalise and harden the opinions of people who buy into his way of seeing the world. And this surely is why it is so important that it is not hidden but bought out into the open, for light to be shone in dark places, so we can be informed. The audience for this Basement production, as it is was for its Danish debut, is limited. But for us in attendance this production has extreme power: by highlighting Brevik’s words and actions it forcefully speaks for the opposite of what he advocated. We can meet Wright’s gaze, and resist.
Manifesto 2083 is presented by The Rebel Alliance and plays at The Basement until 3rd October. Details see The Basement.