Au moins j’aurai laissé un beau cadavre [At least I will have left a beautiful corpse], adapted from Hamlet and directed by Vincent Macaigne, Avignon Festival, Cloître des Carmes, Avignon, 10 July 2011, tiered-seating, centre rear.
Review by Florence March
The actors are already there, singing, dancing, clapping and inviting us to join in. The fourteenth-century Carmelite cloister has been transformed into a kind of psychedelic temple. The stage is a balding lawn strewn with rubbish, funeral wreaths and dirty white plastic sheeting. Downstage, at the foot of a white cross streaked with blood, sit two human skulls and a stuffed otter into which the spirit of Hamlet senior has apparently fled, near a muddy pond in which a corpse is floating — the corpse of the murdered king […]. Upstage, under the arches of the cloister, tables are set out for a feast, drinks dispensers topped with sports trophies and more funeral wreaths, along with oversized French, Danish and European Union flags. Stage left, there are museum cases filled with objects: notably, a skeleton and more sports trophies. Stage right, there are a piano, a large crucifix and an industrial spiral staircase leading to a prefab hut with a neon sign over it which claims: “Il n’y aura pas de miracles ici” (“expect no miracles here”). Incense fills the air. […]
Some spectators join in, even going so far as to jump into the mud bath. Everyone is invited to sing the same refrain over and over again: “Dans ma jeunesse il me semblait qu’il était bien doux d’abréger le temps…” (“In youth methought it was very sweet to contract…”) — François-Victor Hugo’s translation of an extract from the gravedigger’s song in Act V Scene 1 — and to chorus the word “gravedigger”. Thus, beginning at the end, Macaigne turns Hamlet on its head, renegotiating Shakespearean tragedy through burlesque. […]
Take Claudius (Emmanuel Matte), arriving late at his own wedding, in a banana costume; Hamlet (Pascal Rénéric), in short trousers and braces, yelling “J’ai quatre ans, caca boudin!” (“I’m four years old, yucky poo”); and Ophelia (Julie Lesgages) wishing she’d eaten hamburgers with her boyfriend while she could. […] Like Adam and Eve in a dystopian Garden of Eden, Claudius and Gertrude (Laure Calamy), stark naked, make their way across the grubby lawn to have noisy sex in the mudbath — into which all the characters fall sooner or later, ending up covered in mud which, when it dries, starts to shine like gold until they are gilded from head to toe. In the second half of the show, the gold motif returns in the shimmering flakes blown by a stagehand with a fan, which cling to the blood-stained clothes of the characters (and the spectators in the first six rows). As a king reigning over a bling-bling court, Claudius performs a striptease by removing the items of his designer suit and various expensive accessories, announcing the price of each as he does so, commenting on the superior market value of material possessions over the relative worthlessness of “unaccommodated man”. After which, he proceeds to rape Ophelia on the battlements of the sinister white plastic bouncy castle that has just inflated behind him.
The state of Denmark is rotting at a rate of knots. Every third word of Macaigne’s text is “bitch” or “shit”, full of hesitations and gaps: “this script is shit!” a pissed-off actor yells at Macaigne […]. When they are not yelling into loud-hailers, the actors are screaming into microphones […]. During the rehearsal of The Mousetrap, Hamlet argues fiercely with the stage manager. In the same way that Shakespeare’s tragedy deconstructs theatrical experience by revealing its mechanics, so Macaigne systematically unveils the artifice of theatre. Claudius orders the stagehands to turn on the air supply for the bouncy castle, while other characters point out that they are using fake guns and dismiss the show as a poor effort. Even Maurice Jarre’s trumpet theme — which, on the Elizabethan model, has called spectators to Avignon Festival shows since 1951 — is thrown into the mix. […]
While stressing the centrality of audience participation — “The audience has a kind of role in the production, is in effect a character in the play” — Macaigne inflicts verbal and physical abuse and outrage on the spectators, relentlessly questioning their role, function and value, pushing them almost to breaking point, with some simply walking out before the end of the show. […]
Despite the repeated welcomes — “Make yourselves at home” — and the invitation to share the “funeral bak’d meats” […] the audience is constantly mistreated. Front-row spectators protect themselves with plastic sheeting against the flying mud and blood. Others, higher up in the tiered seats […], are more spared, but get soaked in beer by a drunken Ophelia. The female members of the audience are called “old bitches”. One of them has her handbag grabbed and emptied out onto the stage turf. […]
The play ends with all the characters drowning in a tank full of bloody water that recalls the mudbath of the first half of the play. Beforehand, one of them remarks that “a nicely set table is one of the most beautiful things in the world”, reminding us of the opening moments. The wheel has come full circle, leaving you asking what exactly was the point.
Read Florence March’s full-length (1650 words) review (with photo) in Cahiers Élisabéthains 80 (Autumn 2012), pages 86-90. http://recherche.univ-montp3.fr/cahiers/
Florence March is Professor of English at the University of Montpellier, where she is a member of the Institut de Recherche pour la Renaissance Anglaise, l’Âge Classique et les Lumières (IRCL, www.ircl.cnrs.fr ). She also teaches at the National Institute of Theatre Art and Techniques (ENSATT) in Lyon. She co-edited Théâtre anglophone. De Shakespeare à Sarah Kane: l’envers du décor (2008). Recent publications include three monographs, La Comédie anglaise après Shakespeare. Une esthétique de la théâtralité 1660-1710 (2010), Ludovic Lagarde. Un théâtre pour quoi faire (2010), and Shakespeare au Festival d’Avignon (2012).