I’m sitting in what was once a cow shed watching French Absurd Theatre. I can hardly understand a word. But it makes me laugh and by the end I’ve enjoyed veering away from reality for an evening.
The production was performed by an amateur troupe called Création at the IrepScènes Théâtre in Villeurbanne, which might be the smallest theatre in the world. With a capacity of maybe forty, the audience sit on raised benches watching the performers ‘below’ on a miniscule stage about 2cm from the front row.
When I walked in my initial reaction was, ‘Oh, God, this is going to be terrible’. I had acted in a few amateur productions when I was young, but at least we had always somewhere to hide when we forgot our lines. Here there was no space to hardly sit down, yet alone move around. For a second I had this horrible feeling that I’d come to the wrong type of ‘theatre’. But there were too many respectable looking people for that type of thing and after a few minutes the ‘curtain’ went up, the lights shone and two worms appeared on stage.
They wriggled around for a while and then were replaced by a man waiting for a train, who passers-by threw rubbish at. One of them, dressed in the French football kit, stubbed a cigarette out on him and then laughed. They then all buggered off and were substituted by two men drinking cans of lager on a makeshift scaffold; quickly followed by a family eating their dinner suspended four feet in the air. And so on and so forth until the end.
It was actually very well done, and considering the space, almost a work of genius. There were a few fluffed lines, but nowhere near as many as when I acted in a community performance of Pinter’s sketch pieces at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth. This too was meant to be a mixture of the absurd and unreal. But quickly descended into the realms of farce.
The idea was to perform a series of the playwright’s famous sketch pieces. But instead of performing them one after the other, the director decided to cut each sketch up into smaller parts and then mix them all together into one huge bath of madness and incomprehension – at least that part worked.
With everybody either forgetting, mixing up, or saying other peoples’ lines, the resulting play was a continual loop of impenetrable plot performed by a group of shockingly bad actors in front of a paying audience whose only wish must have been that they were somewhere else – preferably dead. If the curtain hadn’t been eventually dropped and the ‘actors’ kindly escorted off stage, the play could have gone on until the end of time.
This French production, while certainly absurd, was enjoyable to watch and when the ‘curtain’ came down, there was a great applause among the forty or so spectators. And then much to my great surprise, a door opened to the left to reveal a small bar. Bravo! It was like being in Wonderland for a few hours.