As part of their residency at the 2018 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), Paris company Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord brings La Maladie de la Mort, an adaptation of the 1982 novella by Marguerite Duras.
The original story is about a strange and unnerving contract between a man and a woman. The Woman is allowed to visit him only at night over a period of time at a seaside hotel. She is paid by him and is expected to be both compliant and silent. Through the experiment, he wants to learn what it’s like to love; what it’s like even to experience feelings and The Woman, as a commodity, is a mere vehicle for this. What appears to be a classic example of male control and dominance is subverted in this free adaptation of Duras’ text from director Katie Mitchell.
Mitchell uses the device of ‘live cinema’ with technicians on stage creating film in real time that is shown on a screen above the set. The artifice of the theatrical devices points up the artifice of the situation being played out on stage with acts interspersed with atmospheric scenes of the dark sea from video designer Ingi Bekk.
Nakedness on stage creates vulnerability for both characters and actors with the device allowing the audience intimate views of action as well as close up facial expressions. Running in parallel with the main narrative, are brief shots of a young girl that give insight to the woman’s view of the world. Other than showing that The Man watches pornography and has plenty of money to spare, nothing is revealed of how he has got to be this person who is so utterly detached from life. The play points up the question of who is really in control. The ironic situation, brilliantly captured by the Laetitia Dosch and Nick Fletcher, has The Woman in the pay of The Man, yet is the one alive to life while he is dead inside, destined to die loveless.
Theatre can shake up and disturb but it can’t do everything. While the play gives a strong feminist message by empowering this particular woman, other young women who swap beanie hats and sandshoes for stiletto heels and satin slips lead a dangerous double life, as was shown in the 2011 French film, Elles.
Performed in French and narrated from a box at the side of the stage by Irène Jacob with English surtitles appearing on the screen, La Maladie de la Mort is produced by a creative team from Britain, France, Germany and Iceland. Following its run at the EIF, the production will head to London’s Barbican from 3 to 6 October. It is an unsettling watch but one that manages to embed in the mind.
16- 18 August at 8pm and 18 and 19 August at 3pm Suitability adults only