At the start of this intellectually confronting and complex one-man play, Olaf Hojgaard (Edwin Wright) tells us he was watching the 2011 Tour de France telecast when he first heard about Anders Behring Breivik's politically-motivated murder of 77 people in 80 minutes in Norway: "I saw a bike race, cycling pundits and a growing body count."
Fascinated with Breivik, Hojgaard decides to write a play about the terrorist, telling us that he (Hojgaard) wants to be Breivik, to act and think like him, to better understand the killings. (In actuality, the well-written play we're watching was developed by Danish collaborators Christian Lollike, Tanja Diers and, yes, Olaf Hojgaard.)
What Hojgaard finds - and what he becomes - is wide open to interpretation: are all the views misleading or odious or only some?
This openness, while challenging, also means the audience can easily reaffirm their own prejudices, whether liberal, conservative or extremist. (You say "political correctness", I hear "politeness" and "intolerance for intolerance".) This Rebel Alliance production seems to expect Aucklanders will share the Danes' level of savvy about Europe's politics and cultures.
But director Anders Falstie-Jensen nicely increases the tension, from a rather dry starting lecture to Wright expertly holding our attention even while performing opposite a dictaphone. Wright does an excellent job of suggesting someone containing power with unexaggerated, natural control (the banana-eating, a la Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, is briefly distracting).
Happily, "crime-o-tainment" (exploiting real anguish for drama) is limited to a brief description of the start of Breivik's rampage. Earlier, incongruous details of his bomb-making mistakes elicited nervous audience titters - a reminder that true horror can start from farce.
The simply-staged play is nothing if not self-aware: knowing that he is giving Breivik a platform, Hojgaard asks: "am I your useful idiot?" Well, yes. But in spite of Breivik's terrorism, society has not lost the right to air his views. When it comes to freedom of speech, the play is its own subject.
What: Manifesto 2083
Where and when: The Basement, to October 3