International Institute of Political Murder, The Arches Behaviour Festival, 14th and 16th March
The Rwandan genocide of 20 years ago was never taught in my school. The words “Rwanda” and “genocide” went together in my head due to hearing snippets of the news, but it’s not something that was explicitly explained to me.
Hate Radio could be seen as educational theatre. Undoubtedly, a lot of people are going to leave the show knowing a lot more than they knew going into it. It’s in no way a complete sermon, and as much as the audience is told of the horrors, we’re also shown them. A press release we’re handed helps too – telling us how removing RTLM, the radio station we’re about to get a deeper look into, would have been a good place to start in preventing the genocide.
The performance space is set up in a traverse stage layout – a radio studio is in front of us, and on the other side of that is more of the audience. Since the actors move around within the studio frequently and are predominantly sitting at a round table, no one is particularly excluded from any views.
LED screens cover the windows of the studio for the first half hour or so. We’re given four accounts of those who experienced the genocide in different ways. Some were there, some were not, but all of them had stories to tell, all of them more harrowing than the last. Despite being desensitised to images of war thanks to increasingly realistic movies and television shows, not to mention ever more dangerous coverage of war on the news, there are still things we don’t hear and don’t see. It’s tough not to have a physical reaction to the information we’re told – a headshake, a look to the floor, a feeling of sickness.
Actors become involved when the screens are lifted and we see into the studio. There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary, apart from the silent soldier who sits, occasionally walks, and observes the whole thing.
What follows is a masterclass in propaganda. A reconstruction of one of RTLM’s broadcasts shows that the colourful personalities, revolutionary for Rwandan radio, were artistic in their methods of enciting hatred within the country. They preached and celebrated the killings, and had listeners call in to tell other people where the “cockroaches”, the Tutsi people, were hiding. It has been suggested that almost 10% of the participation in the genocide stemmed from RTLM broadcasts.
There’s a lot of technology involved – the audience all have walkie-talkie-esque devices with earphones so we can hear what’s going on inside the studio. The entire show is performed in French so surtitles are shown above the performance space. This works fine for the narrated sections of the show, but given the free-flowing nature of the broadcast performance, a lot of dialogue is lost on the audience. We have the main strands of the narrative to read on the screen, but many comments by other actors being thrown in, like DJs do on the radio, are not translated.
The live-documentary feel to the show makes it difficult to applaud the actors at the end, which is meant as a compliment. Inside the studio they were provocative personalities responsible for so much bloodshed. Outside, they were people of Rwanda telling the story of their country in a visceral and memorable way. Important theatre, delivered in an unconventional way to mostly great effect.
The first thing I did upon returning home was research the genocide.