Familie review – Milo Rau’s soulful hymn to life on the brink of death | Stage | The Guardian

It is a dark winter’s night in , a country where the rate has been called “dismally high”. is an , but Rau is not one to shy away from ’s ugly corners. Mesmerising and alarming, Familie completes a trilogy that began with , in which told the molester , and La Reprise, which reconstructed the of Ihsane Jarfi in a random of homophobic violence.

This play also takes its template from . In 2007, the four members of the Demeester were found hanged in their Calais . They had a meal ready to eat and left no sign of struggle. The only to the joint suicide of this comfortably off was a terse note: “We messed up. .”

It’s not much to on, but Rau turns the enigma into a strength. Working with a of professional and amateur in accordance with his 10-point Ghent Manifesto, he enlists a real family to the fateful final night. Prominent Belgian and are joined by their teenage daughters and , plus and , in an evening not of histrionics and grinding of (for that, Rau would direct to and ), but of heartbreaking banality.


The production it most closely resembles is Vanishing Point’s Interiors, a dark domestic performed behind the of a single-storey that turned the audience into unwitting voyeurs. Likewise, Anton Lukas’s realistic set for Familie allows to get on with the cooking, to call her and the to do their English as if, for the most part, we’re not . Moritz von Dungern’s deftly integrated live projections pull to their everyday routines. One section is called “Killing ”.

By , a play shorn of everything we expect of a night out – , conflict, – should be excruciating, but such is the guilelessness of the four actors, the apparent spontaneity of their and the excruciating tension of knowing their fate, that the mundane becomes riveting. In its opening and closing sequences, the cunningly crafted piece reels off of pleasures: watching on a rainy day, doodling during a phone call, … On their own, they are whimsical and insignificant, but cumulatively, they are the we keep on keeping on, our way of defying existential despair.

We this family in we the talking heads on Gogglebox, not for their exceptionalism but the very reverse: their ordinariness and lack of pretence. That we are seeing enactments of real family in parallel to the true-life tragic tale adds to our distress.


Rau does not concern himself with fathoming a meaning behind the suicides; there is no “” dilemma. He accepts the Demeesters’ actions are unknowable. Even with more , we would still find their deaths inexplicable. Where would guessing get us?

Instead, he offers us a kind of dark, secular , at a celebration of life has to offer in its smallest, most trivial moments, and a painful recognition that sometimes it can be too much. Performed at the stately pace of a slow piece of Bach, Familie is assured, soulful and unnerving.

At NTGent, Ghent, Belgium, until 22 .

In the , Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the helpline is 0808 2000 247. In , the service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the suicide lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799- (7233). international helplines can be found at

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