It was the implication of a former teacher, Danielle Hoffelt, that inspired writer and actor Larisa Faber to research the School Leaks scandal that rocked Luxembourg in 2016. “She had become this involuntary whistle-blower, her life mangled up seemingly beyond repair, and what for?” says Faber. Via a series of interviews, Faber learned about how Hoffelt had lived through that time, battled depression and put her family and career back together.
Those conversations led Faber to write her latest play, Papercut, about the journey of a woman who comes across what she perceives to be a grave injustice and decides to do something about it. “This action triggers consequences beyond her wildest dreams, derailing her entire existence,” the writer says.
The two-hander, which premieres at the Mierscher Kulturhaus on 22 January, stars local actor Sascha Ley and British actor Andrea Hall, who worked briefly with Faber on a series in the UK. “It was only for a couple of days, but we got on really well. So we sort of stayed in touch,” says Hall. “She told me this story a while ago, actually, and I'm all for telling stories, particularly when they’re based on real events. What I found quite fascinating was the idea of somebody doing something and then regretting it afterwards. Well, whether they regret it or not, or would they have done it differently? I just find that question quite exciting.”
The idea of doing what is essentially a two-hander also appealed to Hall. She first met Sascha Ley online and the two have only been rehearsing physically for a couple of weeks. “Since the first minute we met in real space, it was like we knew each, because we started right away by going on stage,” says Ley.
Being from Luxembourg, Ley was more familiar with the subject. Still, she says that doesn’t give her any advantage over Hall because the story is so universal. “It has made me more aware of the real cost of whistleblowing,” she explains. “Of course, the action happens in a much smaller space than worldwide leaks like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, but the damage is enormous--psychologically and financially.”
Hall concurs: “Just the idea of one person trying to make a difference and you know, the fact that actions have consequences. It’s something that follows you around permanently. Before they even know you, they have an opinion.” She says that reading and performing the play, and also speaking with Hoffelt, has made her more aware of the impact of whistleblowing. “Which I don’t think I had ever really given much thought before. “You see these people in the news and you think, ‘Oh, that's terrible. That company deserves to be exposed.’ And then you know, what's for dinner? You sort of move on. Meanwhile, there’s a human being whose life has been completely turned upside down.”
It sort of mirrors the way that something quite serious can be, if not exactly trivialised, then made more palatable to an audience
The play takes the form of a talk show, and thus is also a critique of the media as infotainment. “I suppose it is a talk show with a twist,” says Hall. “It is sometimes funny, sometimes a little cruel,” adds Ley. Recreating the late-night talk show format lends the play a dynamic multimedia experience. “It sort of mirrors the way that something quite serious can be, if not exactly trivialised, then made more palatable to an audience,” Hall explains. Ley, herself a singer and musician, says that the music in the show has a narrative dimension that is almost a character in itself.
She hopes that the audience that sees Papercut will come away with a better understanding of how difficult it is to evaluate a big decision. “We should have the courage, but it's easier in a group, that's for sure. As an individual, you're often in a very weak position.”
“Yes, maybe judge a little less before we know the full story,” Hall concludes. “And no matter what walk of life people are in, if they see a lone voice speaking up maybe they will offer their support to the cause. That would be a nice takeaway.”
Papercut by Larisa Faber and starring Andrea Hall and Sascha Ley is on at the Mierscher Kulturhaus on 22, 25-27 and 29 January at 8pm. The play is in English. Information and tickets here.