The Comédie-Française gives battle !
Last season we gave ourselves a moment to defy eternity. The Théâtre éphémère housed the alternating programme, its productions and its repertoire. It is, most pleasingly, a true place of performances, emotions and sharing, authentic as the wood from which it is made, welcoming, vibrant and alive. The Comédie-Française is happy and strong today for having taken up the gauntlet with you and for the season ahead it is setting its sights on fresh challenges and on resonating through other successful extensions of its activities. For the tradition of this theatre is not to be found in the classicism of its programming – the days of candlelight and declamatory delivery are well and truly in the past – but rather in its ability to break the mould artistically in order to give BATTLE. Literary, intellectual, political and aesthetic battles, battles that take place in the domain of the collective consciousness. Indeed, Molière, the troupe leader, was one of those who, in his century, championed the invigorating cut and thrust of argument and counter-argument, and who, from Don Juan to Tartuffe, from The Misanthrope to The School for Wives, always infused his work with a sharpness born of the healthy and necessary confrontation of minds. Later, it was the battle of Semiramis, the battle of the Marriage of Figaro, the Battle of Hernani, the battle of Thermidor and many others that took place within our walls... But let there be no mistake, these are not battles that instigate war. On the contrary, they serve the cause of peace and the promise of universal armistice. Indeed, it is when we do not yield and we stand by our convictions, when we have the courage to speak to and confront the other, the courage to have faith in our values or our curiosity, that dialogue between men everywhere advances, overcomes and endures. And the opposite occurs when we no longer believe, when we no longer fight, when submission to silence spreads, as to narrow stupidity and fear, for then our societies crack under the weight of the collapse. Then, in desperation, as a last resort, horses rear up in arms and the ravages of war bring destruction to our doorstep.
But why would theatre have more to say here? What diplomatic strategies might it deploy? And how, moreover, could it act in this society operating without guidelines, where everything is immediately accessible, and in which interesting disputes are often summarily dismissed by an opinion piece, a like or don’t like or other pithy digital comment? Perhaps the answer lies precisely in the fact that this time saved through speed is unusable by the theatre. In reality (and in fiction), the age-old magic of theatre, as implacable as it is childish, to this day remains unchanged. Actors give battle, with their doubts and the frailties of their art, to represent on stage the most extreme passions and greatest human tragedies. The audience, which also does daily battle against the violence and injustices of modern life, lends its attention and presence. And, in the suspended time of a performance, all their battles meet to give another, in the name of intelligence and reflection, imagination and dreams. And, in the simplicity of listening and acting, together they succeed in holding at bay all the pressures of the outside world to both enrich and transcend them. Let us play battle, as children say, so that our ideas may advance.
And then, in theatre, there are the authors. Men and women who, at the cost of a battle with themselves, write
in order to live in accord with the emotions or fears that inspire them. And while their works are not deprived of humour and laughter, it is often the case that, far from indulging in carefree entertainment, they draw first and foremost from roots of wrongdoing, passions, human dramas, madness and odious deeds. It is then up to the actors and directors to give these works a reading while giving battle, them too and again, to make them resonate in the present and ensure that their topicality and relevance register on the surface of the world.
The coming season is as much a conviction as it is a commitment. It is the will to reach out to the greatest number and to do so at the top of our art, not diluting in any way the intellectual battle, or the dimension of pleasure and entertainment. This means allowing the audience to build trust with titles it knows but has not necessarily seen, or at least not in this light, and arousing its desire to return for rarer or unseen productions. This year, we will therefore let our imaginations tackle all kinds of violence. Disguises of heroism and high treason as told by Shakespeare (Troilus and Cressida); the refusal to renounce ideas to the point of self-sacrifice with Anouilh’s Antigone, a play which triggered battle in the past; Don Juan by Molière, a major play today but whose line “I believe that two and two make four” caused it to be banned for nearly two centuries; Other People’s Heads by Marcel Aymé, on the arbitrary nature of justice and the death penalty. An arbitrariness against which Voltaire protested in his time, Voltaire, whose Candide we will also be programming. In addition, for the first time, a text written in Arabic will be entering the repertoire, Ritual for a Metamorphosis by the Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous, a militant tale of great poetic force, combining the intimate desires of individuals and the suppressed anxieties of a society in crisis. There will also be two comedies, La Place Royale by Corneille, a meditation on love, freedom and their foibles, and An Italian Straw Hat by Eugène Labiche, an bucolic epic that borders on the absurd and the burlesque. We will have the battle of heart and body with Phèdre... Finally, availing of the revival of The School for Wives, we shall question, with a great text and words that make sense, the position and role of women...
Simul et singulis, more than ever this season the Comédie-Française responds, “with theatre” for the greatest of battles, that which is beyond wars, that of the heart and mind.
General administrator of the Comédie-Française