PETIT THÉÂTRE FRANÇAIS at the Korzo in The Hague

Tonight’s performance was, as Sophie Knittl, the director of the piece said to me, a challenge. To present Pascal Rambert’s Clôture de l’amour to a Dutch audience in the original French (with English surtitles) was indeed courageous.

Clôture de l’amour, in translation, has travelled the world and has even been staged in Chinese. But then, theatre makers are always ready to face the challenges and go wherever they are welcomed with open arms, and the Netherlands certainly do that.

This piece, as all of Rambert’s work, deals with conflict. It consisted of breathless, dense and fury-laden text, delivered by a husband and wife in turn at machine-gun speed, each accusing the other of the breakdown of a once idyllic marriage. With the projected English subtitles, non-French speakers had to choose between reading or watching the performance.

Rambert’s texts are beautifully crafted, drilling down to the micro-emotions of human existence and relationships. Here we had the painful separation of a couple – first came the husband with his overnight realisation that the relationship with his wife was dead, and had been so for some time, as he went on to accuse her of smoothing over cracks, pretending all was well. His was an analytical, destructive diatribe, a list of the wife’s faults; she and she alone was responsible of extinguishing the fire inside him – they should have ‘re-calibrated’ their marriage.

When the wife’s reply came it was emotional – here was a woman who herself was not short of an armoury of blame, but her focus was on love and her two children whom she wanted to protect from ‘the bullets’ that would rain down on their heads from the separation of their parents. To ‘re-calibrated’ like a computer was the proverbial red rag for her.

The style of French theatre is often alien to the English theatre audience, consisting as it does of an over-bearing respect for the text, so much so, that at times the actor is so busy reciting the text that there is no time to ‘act’ a great deal. Having said that, though the non-French speaking audience may have struggled last night, I nevertheless appreciated the beauty of Pascal Rambert’s writing. I will look out for his larger works, Architecture (the story of a dysfunctional family) or Une (micro) histoire économique du monde, dansée , (about the domino effect that leads from governments actions to destitution).   Astrid Burchardt    22nd November 2019