Estonian Teatre 99's N°51 Mu Naine Vihastas exposes deceptive appearance of image

Mu Naine Vihastas, a play about image(s) by Teatr N°99 at the Avignon Festival
Mu Naine Vihastas, a play about image(s) by Teatr N°99 at the Avignon Festival Mu Naine (c) Christophe Raynaud de Lage / Festival d'Avignon

A play from a troupe based in Tallin, Estonia, in the Baltic States, Teatr NO99 takes a sharp look at what is real and what is merely appearance, or perhaps what we today call "reality" (as in "reality TV"). The setting for N° 51 Mu Naine Vihastas, which loosely translates into My Wife got Angry and Deleted All our Holiday Photos, is realistic; what happens in the stage action clearly isn't. Or is it? Colouful, playful and deadly serious. 


It has proven quite popular, notably with a younger-than-average, Avignon-type audience.

It’s a play full of surprises which begins in a curious way with mime. The main character, the husband, hardly utters a sound for the first 15 minutes. Enter seven more characters, and thanks to surtitles the audience understands that he is engaging strangers in a role-playing exercise.

He wants them to pretend to be his family. He plans to rebuild the photo file of the last family holiday his wife deleted in a fit of rage so that he can relive that experience. It makes for some whacky, absurd and funny scenes and exchanges.The action in the play is so constant, and the humour so varied and well-executed that the reason for the man's desperate need to recover his lost images is ignored.

Teatre 99’s central idea is about importance of image and images in our lives today.

"One of our ideas comes from the fact that people are surrounded by so many images," says Enne Liis Semper, who co-directs the play with Tiit Ojasoo. "It's almost impossible to tell the difference between the original, like personal pictures and images that are shown on TV or in advertisements. All these idealistic ideas about how should I look if I'm happy or how should my family look if we have a good time together."

Photography and photographs play an essential role in the play.

"People are constantly taking photos. They have thousands in their computers. Do they ever look at them?"

The black and white photos are projected on a set wall facing the audience. They come out with amazing precision. Yet, they are taken during what appears to be a wild party.

"In the last photo session where they take loads of photos which look like famous world press photos or easily recognisable historical or art photos like Man Ray's or of personalities like John Lennon and Yoko Ono," Semper explains. "The choreography is really strict, otherwise it doesn't work. The actors have to be very composed when the photos are being taken, to capture the right emotion which the audience sees in the photo."

It’s the first time Teatre 99 has been invited to Avignon, but given the way N°51 Mu Naine Vihastas has been received, it could be the beginning of a more lasting relationship with the Festival. The Festival may have to act fast. N°51 is the 51st play the company has done out of a total of 100 they say they will ever do. The countdown is on as they have already reached N°44. 

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