Theater adaptation of Édouard Louis' novel about rape is heartbreaking

A closed cage, a perfect cube. The first thing you see in History of Violence is the set design by Marloes van der Hoek and Wikke van Houwelingen – an impenetrable block in which a traumatic experience is locked up. During the performance, the shutters and doors offer a different view of the revolving apartment in which writer Édouard Louis was robbed and raped. Louis wrote his autobiographical novel about that attack in 2016 Histoire de la violence.

The idea of ​​different perspectives on an unsavory event is central to Abdel Daoudi’s direction. As in Louis’s novel, he alternates the narration of the main character (Eelco Smits) with the retelling of that story by his sister (Lotte Dunselman).

That produces nice contrasts: where Louis desperately looks for explanations for what happened to him, his sister can give free rein to her anger and amazement at her brother’s naivety. How could he be stupid enough to take home a strange man who accosted him on the street?

Third perspective

More than Louis, Daoudi also puts forward a third perspective: that of Reda (Sia Cyrroes), the young Kabylian man (‘not an Arab!’) who first seduces and eventually rapes him. Throughout the performance, we see Reda through Louis’s gaze, like a pawn in his reconstruction of the evening, but Daoudi suddenly lets him take over the narrator’s role at the moment of the rape.

In this way, the director allows him to take full responsibility for his gruesome actions, beyond the extenuating circumstances that Louis himself always invokes, and he finally becomes an autonomous human being who is no longer viewed only through the somewhat exotic eyes of the main character.

Loneliness of the victim

The way in which Daoudi has composed the performance is impressive. By regularly having the actors interrupt each other or even speak simultaneously, the director constantly reminds you of the subjectivity of the characters, which – as always with Louis – is strongly determined by social class.

However, the most important perspective remains that of Louis himself. Actor Eelco Smits flawlessly traces the injuries and struggles of the main character. The slumbering self-reproach (“I wish I hadn’t…”), the stubborn desire to continue to see his rapist as a human being, the humiliating experience when his friends urge him to press charges, the crushing loneliness of being a victim – Smits takes you in breathtaking fashion, and your heart breaks for him.

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