Full of both visual and verbal tromps-a-l'œil, Rêver Peut-Être, this week’s Corpus lateshow, is an ambitious and fascinating theatrical exploration of the world of dreams, the internal life of the existential protagonist, and the nature of humanity – both the state of being human, and the illusion of a unified code of behaviour within communities of humans.
If all of this sounds like the kind of thing to awaken your inner 15-year-old, proud of having read Hamlet and L’Étranger, having looked up ‘absurdism’ on Wikipedia, and with a renewed sense of your own place within (or outside) the world, it definitely is. However, Jean-Claude Grumberg’s writing is deft, light, and never afraid to make fun of itself, avoiding the kind of heavy-handed pastiche which interpretations of texts like these is often drawn to, resulting in a play which balances nicely its moments of comedy and of chilling drama, whilst constantly maintaining its intrigue.
Ben Martineau plays Gérard B., an actor whose unsettling dreams have landed him with a murder charge. The pantomimic trial which follows is not at all bothered with silly details like who B. killed, or how, but is rather more concerned with judging his social conduct and the content of his dreams, many of which swirl around Oedipal concerns about his absent father, and imagining his wife to be his mother, who in his dreams is in love with his imaginary uncle. And yes, the mothers, uncles, and lovers in his dreams have the names you might expect them to, if he were Prince of Denmark.
All seven members of the cast performed very well, with almost seamless accents and good use of gestures and non-verbal acting. This approach by director Lina Fradin was a nice way of re-balancing the physical and verbal aspects of a play which enjoys focusing on and playing with language, especially when this language is probably not the native one of most of the audience. The production also made excellent use of ambient sound, lighting and projections, transporting us into the surreal world of B.’s dreams and making us share in his sense of unease and anxiety. The set was a little crowded, but I enjoyed touches like B.’s rock-hard, slightly too small bed, which was dragged around the stage by different characters, and the mirror affixed to the judge’s lectern, which simultaneously added to the sense of the trial taking place in B.’s bedroom and forced the audience to watch themselves watching the justice system watching B.
Whilst the publicity for this play has been keen to emphasise its accessibility for non-French-speakers, both myself and the Francophone (English) friend who came along with me agreed that it would be almost impossible for someone who didn’t understand or speak the language to understand what was going on, in a play which is so concerned with language and whose action lies so much in what the characters say and how they say it. Fortunately, the show provided booklets that summarised the play scene by scene. Accidental Death of An Anarchist, a play being staged next week by the Italian society, is planning to use subtitles for non-Italian-speaking audience members. Whilst subtitles can be used effectively and unobtrusively, such as in the Greek Plays put on every three years by the ADC, I don’t think this would have been the ideal solution for Rêver Peut-Être in terms of making sure that everyone knew what was going on, simply because of the layout of Corpus Playroom and the issues which this would pose.
Rêver Peut-Être is a skilfully handled production of a skilfully written play, and is as entertaining as it is clever and prescient. Just make sure you’ve looked over your vocab sheet before heading to Corpus if you want the full experience, though.