Sex, sheep and terror: the scandalous theatre of Milo Rau

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He has put an Isis fighter’s mother in the Ghent Altarpiece and restaged a murder. Now the Swiss director plans to get radical

When Milo Rau first saw the Ghent Altarpiece, one detail leapt out at him. While Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s 15th-century masterpiece is often admired for the ambitious scale of its Lamb of God scene, the Swiss theatre director zoomed in on Adam’s sunburnt hands. “They are red because the model came directly from the fields to be painted,” he says the morning after the premiere of his new Altarpiece-inspired production, Lam Gods. “It’s art as a collective process, made with common people.”

It is a philosophy Rau is attempting to apply to an institution he has long decried as elitist and preoccupied with the classics: the city theatre. Starting this season, the 41-year-old is now the director of one of Belgium’s foremost venues, NTGent, and has kicked things off with a community-oriented production. Lam Gods is the Dutch name of the Altarpiece, on display at St Bavo’s Cathedral near the theatre, and Rau brought 21st-century models to the stage to reinvent, through a video installation, the biblical figures and characters painted by the Van Eycks – Ghentians from all walks of life.

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