It’s the end of the war and three young soldiers have been sent to murder a man and his children. They shoot the man and the boy, but the daughter is missing. The youngest of the soldiers, the one they call Tito, is sent to search for her. He finds her hiding beneath a trapdoor. The man and girl look at each other and, rather than kill her, the soldier leaves. Fifty years later, after his two companions have died in suspicious circumstances, Tito is approached by a woman. He recognizes her immediately; it is the girl. She asks, “would you like to have a drink with me?” This is the beginning of Without Blood, Inne Goris and Dominique Pauwel’s stage adaptation of the novella by Alessandro Barrico. What follows is a psychologically fraught story about revenge and the impact of violence.
Theatre director and writer Inne Goris is known for her subversive themes and blended performances. Without Blood is the result of her collaboration with the composer Dominique Pauwels. Their work combines music, motion, and text to explore the characters’ uneasy relationship. The consequence is a minimalist yet deeply disturbing theatre piece. There is none of the woolly incomprehensibility that can sometimes accompany experimental theatre. Aided by Johan Leysen’s excellent performance as Tito, the play convincingly portrays the troubling legacy of war.
It was the universality of Barrico’s story that first drew Goris to the novella. “He uses the word ‘war’ but he never says which one,” she tells me. “It’s a war that lasted for years. He uses Spanish, Italian like names but it’s never very specific which country. What I’m always intrigued by…is how an event can infect the lives of people. And here you have this horrific moment at the end of the war where two young people meet each other. Little by little you start feeling what this night meant for them and how it affects their whole lives.”
The tension of their encounter is heightened by the intimate staging. Goris has placed the two protagonists across a table from one another. “When I read the book, I directly had the feeling this really has to be two people who are talking,” she says. “That’s the essence of the book. They sit in the bar and they talk. And they have a very difficult conversation.” Slowly, their disturbing mutual history morphs into something almost romantic. “It’s a very complicated relationship, every rehearsal, every run through, we still find new things. Because you have the feeling it’s a kind of love story in a way, that it’s love at first sight. Because over the door they look at each other and then the door closes again and she’s left alone. He goes on with his life knowing what he did and they both try to find explanations for what happened.”
In other hands, this intensely ambivalent relationship could have been unconvincing. Instead, Goris skilfully highlights the pair’s uncomfortable bond. Both have been defined by the same experience, however at odds they might be over its meaning. From the woman’s perspective “My father was a wonderful father and you are saying he was a monster,” she explains. The inclusion of a third, silent, character reminds the audience of the history behind these competing stories. “The only thing I saw moving around them was a young girl,” Goris tells me. “For some people it’s a kind of ghost, if you want. This little girl is still there. For both of them it’s like the open wounds, or the most beautiful thing they ever experienced.”
The themes addressed in the play are depressingly relevant. “At the moment when we were creating the show, we had the attacks in Brussels,” says Goris, “and all of a sudden you start reading the text in a very different way. Because it’s also young guys who are saying, ‘I did it because I think that I can create a better world by doing this…’ Probably what happened between this man and woman, this girl and boy, is still happening.” Still, for all its grimness the story has an undercurrent of optimism. The plot hints that dialogue can help break cycles of revenge. “That’s maybe the only thing we can do,” Goris explains, “to try to explain why you did what you did.” Without Blood also rejects potentially glib conclusions, never giving too much away. The deliberately open-ended final scene completes a tense and intelligent meditation on violence.
Words by Dylan Brethour
Without Blood is on at LIFT’16, June 8pm