Tuesday, May 2, 2017

National Theatre of Nice: Fugue

  After trying out two seasons of plays and musical offerings at our National theatre here in Nice,  I withdrew membership.  But this was 15 years ago and things change.  

Friday night I returned to the National Theatre of Nice ready to give it another try.  A good friend had offered me tickets and this was to be our first outing for this season.

Fugue: Photo Avignon Festival

The play we saw was called "Fugue" by Samuel Achache. ...  a fugue being a form of music in which a short melody or musical phrase is introduced by one voice and then is taken up by the others and developed and tossed around to weave new cloth. ... (just to mix my metaphors).  

In this case the playwright,  Samuel Achache places the piece at the South Pole at an explorers station.  The main set is the interior of the station and the surrounding stage is covered with powdery "snow".    Five actors command the stage and alternately sing contrapuntal music, play instruments (cello, trumpet, keyboard, guitar, drums, clarinet) ,  engage in burlesque gags, interact, or deliver impressively long monologues on love, death and the meaning or meaninglessness of it all.   

 What is interesting is that Achache started with musicians as actors and let them look at the relationships of counterpoint, let them ramble and discuss the subject and see how these musical connections would relate to human relationships and then develop the play from improvisation.   This from the Avignon festival where the play previewed in May 2015:     
"The Story is intrinsically musical, maybe even operatic, but the point of departure is none other than Pythagorus’ theories of harmony and temper. Its paradox: the cycle
of fifths it is based on cannot be closed, as a comma is missing from the last one. The mathematical relationship is perfect in theory, and yet in practice the cycle it produces is a spiral. To embody this question, have fun with it, and maybe solve its impossible harmony, the musician-actor-singers brought
together by Samuel Achache combine their voices, like the subjects and countersubjects of a fugue, and delve into the ideas of being in tune and of misunderstanding."

 The research and background for this play is intellectually impressive and was a labor of love by the whole cast.   Achache's new way of working is unusual and seems to have resulted in a solid team of actors comfortable with the material and with each other.   The cast seems to include international muscians judging by these names and includes: Vladislav Galard, Anne-Lise Heimburger, Florent Hubert, Leo- Antonin Luthier, and Thilbault Perriard.   The instruments they play all existed in the middle ages, from birth of the fugue up to Bach's time.

Fugue:  Photo by Avignon Festival

 I have the feeling the play held together quite successfully but I only understood about 50% of it.  What a disappointment to see that my French isn't as solid as I had imagined.    I was still impressed, however with the levels of the performance and the ability of the actors to engage the audience.

The most successful passage was played by Leo Antonin Luthier, the performer who does an outrageous naked mime of fashioning a  bathing costume and cap made of duct tape ( lest the audience behold his nakedness), preparing himself to take a warming bath after a spell of being frozen and lost.   He is mostly being ignored by the sole actress in the cast who is near him in the hut but with whom he seems to have lost favor.

 Luthier in Fugue: Photo Avignon Festival

  Just as astonishing is Monsieur Luthier's voice....above a tenor, like a woman's.  I would say castrato ( a soprano or mezzo soprano?) but I am doubly sure after the brief nude scene last night that Mr Luthier is anything but a castrato.  They must be using a different term these days.  

Luthier from Fugue,  Photo by Avignon festival 

  After a series of delightful acrobatic displays in the snow Luthier lands in the bathtub and begins to sing a Bach melody with touching sweetness.   In the midst of this,  he cleverly interjects sound effects of tea drinking and smoking , copying the actions of the actress in the room.    This sequence was an audience favorite. 

Anne-Lise Hamburger and Leo Antonin Luthier in Fugue: photo by Avignon Festival

  Although I can't judge the piece itself, I was pleased to see some fine performers, comfortable with their craft and delivering sure performances....actors/musicians/comedians and singers ... what a package deal. 


1 comment:

  1. Wow thank you for finding this! "An intellectual Rubik's Cube..." Okay now I don't feel so bad for being a little lost at times! It was really creative and original... I'm so glad we went!

    A. C.