Theatre premiere in Paris: Amnesty for whales!

The content of the youngest "création collective" of the Théâtre du Soleil, the troupe founded in 1964 around Ariane Mnouchkine and located since 1970 in a fo

Theatre premiere in Paris: Amnesty for whales!

The content of the youngest "création collective" of the Théâtre du Soleil, the troupe founded in 1964 around Ariane Mnouchkine and located since 1970 in a former ammunition factory on the south-eastern outskirts of Paris, can be summed up easily. "L'Île d'or" is about (please take a deep breath here): femicides, opponents of masks, the Middle East conflict, xenophobia in Japan, the Covid-19 pandemic, the surveillance of gays in China, ridiculous forms of wokeness in the West, the suppression of the Hong Kong mass protests, the lot of Kassandres in today's unjust states, the undermining of democracy by populists. And also about the spread of fake news through so-called social networks. As well as the abuse of the idealism of young men for criminal purposes. Not to forget the destruction of the natural and cultural heritage by unscrupulous capitalists (here, please take a deep breath).

Global or navel-centered?

Depending on your taste, you will characterize the production as global or navel-centered, as epic or short of breath, profound or flat. Gold Island or Blecheiland? Let's start with a formal description. "L'Île d'or" is a box piece: the frame is formed by scenes in a hospital. There, the gray-haired Cornélia is probably down due to a Covid disease and, feverishly fantasizing, puts herself on an imaginary islet. Kanemu-jima, the name of the Japanese island, is half Thomas More's Utopia, a peaceful sleepy fishing village around a miniature volcano, half a cross-section of the dark forces that threaten such ideal (or idealized) communities around the world today: profit-seeking business sharks, unscrupulous politicians, brutal mafiosi. A coalition of representatives of these groups wants to complete Kanemu-jima with hotels, casinos and a marina; the mayor and her right-hand woman are fighting back.

In front of the house: The ensemble in "L'Ile d'Or". : Image: Michèle Laurent

Together, the two resolute ladies will bring the machinations of the villains – all of them gentlemen – to failure. To secure the favor of the islanders, they organize a theater festival: troops from all over the world come together for rehearsals in the Brick Hall, which threatens the "development project" with demolition. In Cornélia's Kopfkino, which forms the island narrative thread, the guests in turn play out scenes – with the exception of one imaginary drama: Theater im Theater im Theater.

Where should the wall go?

This allows Mnouchkine and her troupe to paint with a broad brush how a nation appears and what is going on around it – two old hippies from France, for example, chant slogans like: "Amnesty for whales! Down with the sushis!“ Above all, however, the grievances from which the respective people have to suffer can be flagellated in this way.

The "Great Theater of Peace", for example, consisting of an Israeli woman and her Palestinian husband, is arguing hotly about the placement of its most important stage design element: a wall (attention, symbol!) - before it splits under the mutual accusation of collaboration (with Netanyahu and Hamas, respectively). A troupe from Brazil denounces the overexploitation of the rainforest, a collective from Hong Kong denounces the gangling of the democracy movement. Puppeteers show how a warner flashes before a new virus at the commissioner, Chancellor and emperor (attention, parable!). Dialogues from Chekhov's "Three Sisters" are performed in Russian and Japanese, songs are intoned in Portuguese or Pashto. Cornélia's childhood teacher appears again and again in a separate fever dream, reciting John Donne as well as other poets. Names like "Sunzi" and "Ibn Battūta" buzz through the room; the soundtrack flutters from the flute solo to the monster film music.

In a kimono: scene from "L'Ile d'Or". : Picture: Michèle Laurent

The whole thing might have been viable for a good three hours, if not for the modesty of the message (don't be like Putin, Xi and Trump: respect and help each other!) would be potentiated by the simplicity of the thirty-two performers. As Cornélia, Hélène Cinque embodies a character who had already flitted through "Une Chambre en Inde", the penultimate production of the Théâtre du Soleil. Her tone of voice, between stunned and breathless, her gestures, between lethargy and a fit of rage (without intermediate stages), give the frame level of the piece, the hospital scenes, something lamentable. Certainly: Cornélia is a representative figure for Mnouchkine, who with "L'Île d'or" keeps a diary about what has moved her in recent years. But why so sluggish, so fluttery, so poor in imagination?

Updated Date: 17 November 2021, 00:00

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