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January 16, 2014 5:59 pm
Edward Bond may be the most French of British playwrights. While his relationship with the London stage has had its ups and downs (some of them presumably having to do with what he calls the “postmodern junk that is our culture” in his latest programme notes), France has long embraced his works as contemporary classics. Teenagers have studied his “war plays” as part of the baccalauréat, and Bond has dedicated his “Paris cycle” to French director Alain Françon, a longtime accomplice who was the artistic director of the Théâtre National de la Colline until 2010.
Les Gens (People) is the fourth play in that cycle, and has finally had its world premiere at the Théâtre Gérard-Philipe in Saint-Denis, eight years after its publication. Like many of Bond’s recent plays, Les Gens takes place in 2077 in a grim world that seems stuck in perpetual crisis. Postern, a man who has been shot and is lying on stage, is soon joined by Lambeth, a woman who steals clothes off corpses to survive; Margerson, a killer; and Someone, a young man looking for his identity.
Guilt and innocence are at the crux of their individual predicaments. Margerson is driven to madness by the memory of having killed while Postern wills himself to stay alive long enough to leave his coat to Someone and passionately proclaims his innocence – an innocence that Someone will reject.
Les Gens is a startlingly dark, desolate and violent play – Postern eats the blood-soaked dirt he lies in – and Françon’s production is appropriately bleak with a grey relief set. Early scenes are particularly effective but the second half of the play seems to go round in circles, with overblown threats and pleas for one or the other character to be killed; you find yourself wishing a character would die at last (or “button up,” as Postern suggests), if only to justify the prevalent sense of apocalypse.
The cast is committed to a fault but unintelligible at several points, marring some monologues. Aurélien Recoing (Postern) and Alain Rimoux (Margerson) give weight to their characters, but the standout is Dominique Valadié, a close collaborator of Françon’s. Bond wrote the role of Lambeth for her, and her matter-of-fact delivery and subtle irony as the woman who lost a son to gunfire and takes refuge in the clothes she snatches, barely noticing the violence around her, are a welcome reprieve from the men’s relentless intensity.
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