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Captivating audiovisual play (Review)

(Translation by Anstein Bleikli)

The new play by Transiteatret deals with the terrorist attack of July 22 in “real time”. It is ambitious and impressive craftmanship.

The press release of June 19 from Transiteatret came abruptly. Immediately before the beginning of the summer vacation they announce that they are having an “online premiere” at different locations in Norway simultaneously.

The performance should have a more traditional scenic premiere at the Harstad Festival on June 23, but on Saturday June 22 it was possible to meet up at so-called “listening posts” at Wraphuset in Bergen, at NTNU in Trondheim, or just at home by yourself on the computer.

Tore Vagn Lid has been streaming theatre performances before, but this time it is made in a much more sophisticated way, and the timing is crucial in a new way.

I notice that I need a steady hand to be able to explain this, because there are many balls in the air at the same time. Fortunately, they never drop any of them. And then, at exactly the same moment one month before July 22, eight years after the terror, there will be a reconstruction of the brutal afternoon, second by second, using illustrators, video, music, journalistic material and radio recordings.

How does it sound afterwards, now that we actually know the reason why? And what is it like to listen to all this, after that ABB in many ways changed our society and the public debate, forever?

At Wraphuset the setting is comfortable with comfortable chairs, beer and wine being served, crackers and fruit on the table and a large, white wall in front of us.

We have been asked to be there at ten to three, but little happens before close to half past. While waiting I can see that a Facebook friend is sharing that she’s at home ready for a listening post, too. On the wall in front of me there’s a countdown for the live performance. Together in a new way. So exactly the seconds that the performance runs live are no coincidence.

First, we can hear Tore Vagn Lid’s voice wishing us welcome. He is in Harstad where they will have a scenic premiere with audience the day after. The action up north and the film that we are watching start on a white sheet and it looks like black ink is spreading dramatically. The bomb has exploded. Then the performance and the radio play last exactly as long as the terrorist deed took place.

03.08.38 States of Emergency is physically performed in Harstad, but it is mainly by using small cardboard figures representing AAB’s car or the boat across to Utøya that the action is moved forward, neither by using traditional actors nor by visible participants, a word Transiteatret has used about physical persons in several of its performances. In particular, the movement of the car is filmed close and closer; for instance, when ABB is waiting for half an hour in the bushes at the ferry quay, then we are waiting, too. When he is driving in a tunnel, we are driving in a tunnel, too. It is timed and organized right on the minute. E.g. small figures and thin paper houses are filmed when the van is driving through Skøyen or hits the motorway towards Drammen.

We were many people that had shown up at the listening post, a bit confused and hesitant to what we would be shown; how could a live transmitted audio play with figure theater work as theater? Surprisingly well!

We are familiarized with the atmosphere of that day listening to old reports and radio clips. It’s summer rain and at Sørlandet a woman has created a flooding at a hotel because she fell asleep in the shower with her bottom blocking the drain. A ticking clock is often a central part of the audio play. Initially we listen to a lot of P4’s recordings that day; their jovial presenters in summer mood and light traffic reports. They play “The Final Countdown”. After having received the first messages that something has happened in central Oslo, their voices are still happy, light and unknowing. They move directly on to another piece of news that says: ”It is typically Norwegian to be good – also at economics.” You cannot but laugh at the coincidence.

We hear sound clips from Gro’s speech at Utøya, where she among other things talked about Hitler, and various rumours and wrong messages following in the wake of the bombing and updates from foreign news channels.

Experts are wondering if this happens because Norway has recognized a Palestinian ambassador, or maybe because there is an economic crisis in Greece, or what if it has something to do with Libya? And of course, for many people the big elephant in the room during these hours: Islamic terrorism!

Even though everybody knows what happens there is a nerve and development in the action, although everything is very slow.

“We’ll update you as soon we know something” a radio presenter says, and it is striking how all updates are based on the fact that they do not know anything.

The sound effects are also a very important part of the whole, but there is also a more traditional musical superstructure. The warm reggae- inspired sound picture from several earlier productions is found here, too. And there is also a sort of choir and musicians who play live, in the room where we sit, as well as at the headquarters in in Harstad.

In many ways we recognize the form and style from several of Tore Vagn Lid’s productions , even though there is a minimum of human contact, which is also intensified by the fact that we watch this online, but camera and film play first fiddle to an even greater degree.

The performance emerges as very advanced – at the same time the effects, forms and drawings that are used are economical, simple and efficient.

Something that always is pointed out as one of theatre’s most important and most characteristic qualities is the so-called “here and now” feeling. There is a human encounter, and what happens is impossible to save for the history or preserve the atmosphere on video. This is a truth that is moved in this project, and it shows that there are many ways of being together and that theatricality can be created everywhere.

The performance ends when ABB boards the boat MS Torbjørn and we have a feeling that there will be some kind of “to be continued”, even if it is hard to imagine how it can be possible to cover this course of events.

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