Italian theater director Romeo Castellucci insists he’s not a provocateur despite a history of generating shock and outrage. Interview by The Irish Times.
“It is not my aim to be a provocateur,” says Castellucci, from his home in the Apennine mountains. This disarming and friendly man would surprise anyone expecting a rebel looking for an easy reaction. Recalling that difficult period, he points out the irony of having real law enforcers present onstage; his recent play Bros, touring to the Dublin Theatre Festival, is about how policemen are widely encountered, and even omnipresent, in art.
Castellucci certainly takes risks. With the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, the company he co-founded with his sister Claudia Castellucci and his wife Chiara Guidi, he became a pioneer of contemporary theatre. At the beginning of his career in Bologna during the 1980s, he found mainstream theatre to be a “cultural game,” something to reassure people by showing them what they already knew. Drawn instead to the idea of a deeper truth, to French director Antonin Artaud’s idea of leaving audiences so they would be “terrified, and awaken”, he developed an oblique and exciting approach to playmaking, often incorporating epic, visceral displays, and bold casting decisions such as assigning roles to medical patients and live animals.
“You sometimes have to push to change the electricity in the air. You can feel it when sitting in the audience. Something is not correct,” he says. That will remind many of his thrilling gambles during the 1990s – a production of Julius Caesar where Mark Antony’s famous speech (“Friends, Romans, countrymen …”) was delivered by a man scarred from throat cancer, or an adaptation of the Book of Genesis that detoured to a chilling scene at Auschwitz – but, two decades on, Castellucci’s art is still as wild as a fever dream. In the past five years alone, his productions have featured cars falling from the ceiling, a woman in a pool of milk serenading the severed head of a horse, and a biblical tale of fratricide performed by child actors.
A play about policemen was something that was long on his mind. In the early 2000s, Castellucci created an ambitious cycle of plays inspired by European history titled Tragedia Endogonida.
Since then, he has been reflecting on how depictions of policemen permeate art history, carrying with them a range of contradictions: “We see a reference to cinema in Bros because that artform’s history is made for the policeman. If you see the early movies without words, the films of Charlie Chaplin, there were always police in them because they are the balance between chaos and order, violence and comedy.”
That sounds like an intriguing law of determinism. “The police are the guarantee that we can have chaos,” says Castellucci.