Zucco in Séoul by Romain Fohr
Lorenzo Malaguerra and Jean Lambert-wild are working on a production of Bernanrd-Marie Koltès’ Roberto Zucco, with the troupe of the National Theater Company of Korea (NTCK). Both were born in 1972, and since 2012 they regularly collaborate on different productions, including: The Wisdom of Bees, based on a text by Michel Onfray, Waiting for Godotby Samuel Beckett (co-directed by Marcel Bozonnet), Richard III – Loyaulté me lieby William Shakespeare. After this project in Seoul, they will meet again to work on Samuel Beckett’s Worstward Hoand on The Feast with the Statue, an adaptation of Molière’s Dom Juan.
They both came to theatre through different paths. Lorenzo started with a Masters in Geography, before joining the Geneva Conservatoire as an actor. Jean on the other hand, who had been dreaming of becoming a master mariner, left Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, to join the Metropole. There he met the German dramaturg Matthias Langhoff, and became Langhoff’s assistant director. Maybe Lambert-wild and Malaguerra were inspired by the historical theatrical duo composed of Manfred Karge and Langhoff, in the way they think how an artistic project should be devised. Indeed, in their projects, the director isn’t the sole authority; instead, directors collaborate with other craftspeople. One consequence of this process is that every collaborator increases the quality of everyone else’s work. At times where the dominant discourse seems to be every one to themselves and where the hegemony of a liberal system that values the development of ‘self versus other’ prevails, they ask themselves and each other what the role of the theatre director is in the 21stcentury. Do we need theatre directors? In their rehearsals, they also challenge each other’s assumptions. They fight off easy answers so that they can focus instead on the accuracy of the author’s words, on the force of theatre. Above all, their cooperation is a playful and constant conversation about what theatre is, and how, together, they make it. Today, Lorenzo is artistic director of the Théâtre du Crochetan, in Switzerland, and Jean artistic director of Théâtre de l’Union – Centre Dramatique National du Limousin, in France, and of Académie de l’Union – École Supérieure Professionelle de Théâtre du Limousin.
This rare association of people, a poet and a theatre director, is above all the story of their friendship. It is what allows these two to focus on the essential when they devise. They also artistically complement each other, in the way they use mime and clowning, but also in their understanding of space, their use of technology and new sound and visual medias, in the way they understand the delicate task of directing actors, the dramaturgical precision of the text and the meaning of words. Their collaboration has given birth to unique productions, different from the rest of the European contemporary theatrical landscape. As a duo, they are regularly on tour in Europe. They have a shared desire to build a project together, which creates their specific performance style. Let’s focus on their latest work, for example: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett (performed in venues such as the National Theatre in Beijing and La Cartoucherie in Paris), and Richard III – Loyaulté me lieby William Shakespeare. In both productions, their style is at once playful, tragic and marvellous. This way of working means they are able to skilfully use both tragedy and comedy. Like two actors on a stage, they surprise each other. Because they both remember that they were once actors themselves, they place the performers at the heart of their thinking. In a devastated landscape, made of black earth and blueish walls, the four actors inWaiting for Godotmeander between a path and a burnt tree. Lucky (played by Jean) call out to the audience, and makes them laugh out loud. Pozzo, (played by either Marcel Bozonnet or Lorenzo) is a tyrant with his slave, whom he reduces to silence. The white clown and the Auguste perform their number. Fargass Assandé and Michel Bohiri (two famous actors from the Ivory Coast) perfectly play with Beckett’s words. Vladimir and Estragon become the contemporary refugees in exile who, like migratory birds, move across continents. For Richard III – Loyaulté me lie, Jean embodies the bloodthirsty king in a fairground shack with games of skill, balloons, music, sweets, loud noises, fireworks and lighting effects. Throughout the play, Richard is manipulated, as all the other characters are played by one formidable actress: Élodie Bordas. She disguises herself as a series of different characters (men and women, young and old). It is an amazing feat! A success!
This new translation of Roberto Zuccoin Korean is preoccupied with pace, lexical details, the power of how Koltès’ words sound. Through the whole rehearsal process, Lorenzo and Jean have wished to constantly adapt Koltès’ violently poetic text. They want to give their audience a taste of the different strata of language used by the French dramaturg. Thanks to the Korean actors’ technical mastery, the text has been regularly put to the test, and it has been made better and more specific. Translating this text has been a constant task in the rehearsal process.
Travelling to South Korea is also a way for the duo of furthering the pleasurable work they had already carried out in France with another theatre company. The actors of the National Theater Company of Korea allow a quicker osmosis with the work, and a allow the project to take greater dramaturgical risks. For the actors, it is not necessary to start again from scratch: the thinking process shared by the whole company makes the actors’ craft easier, they can explore things on stage. They have also been able to easily play with how the comic and tragic genres alternate, something that is dear to Koltès, who borrowed it from Shakespeare (see for instance the porters’ scene in Macbeth, or the gravediggers in Hamlet.)
More than anything else, the actors have built their interpretation on the pleasure they take in performing. Lorenzo and Jean have decided to reject a dramaturgy that would be humourless dramaturgy, or to give the play a morbid weight.
Regarding the scenography, Lorenzo and Jean came to Seoul once already, in June last year, to take inspiration from the city’s idiosyncratic atmosphere. What opened spatial perspectives for them was the discovery they made of a series of photographic shots of the Japanese prison. In the 1930s, under the Japanese occupation, members of the resistance were interned in this prison. Under the guards’ surveillance, Korean prisoners were forced to do physical exercise in a panopticon, built in the courtyard so that a guard could see them all at the same time. Lorenzo and Jean thought they could choreograph a section of the show to tale place during these sessions, illustrating Roberto Zucco’s deadly training, who, escaping the prison guards’ vigilance at the start of Koltès’ play, evades. A quick study of the play revealed that ‘doors’ are a recurring feature of the French text. They are in turn an opening, a trapdoor, a border, a wall, a passing, an airlock, a hole, a wide-open gap, a frame that offers a window on Zucco’s desire and on his violence. This scenographic intuition recalls the Russian Vsevolod Meyerhold’s proposition for Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, performed in 1926 in Moscow. It is a scenographic constraint that we also often see in French ‘boulevard theatre’, which creates scenes between dream and reality. The actors have had a lot of fun working with this system of multiplied doors. When the doors are closed, they form a closed transitory space, shaped in a semi-circle, where the play’s inter-scenes can be performed.
The play’s central idea, Roberto Zucco wandering across the city, is clearly represented with this device that echoes the prison panopticon. Zucco moves from one location to the other, where he meets his victims and commits murders. To paraphrase the title of another one of Koltès’ plays: “The day of murders in the story of Roberto Zucco”.
Scenography becomes sound when the audience hears an off voice (in scene XV Zucco in the sun), or sounds (borrowed to Birdsongsby French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen) that echo in Zucco’s skull just before he kills again.
Since his production of The Night Just Before the Forests(premiered in 2001 and performed again in 2011), Lorenzo has felt a great affinity with Koltès’ plays. When he suggested to Jean that they work on a production of this text, the last one Koltès wrote before he died, Lorenzo saw in it a synthesis of all of Koltès’ other plays (La Fuite à cheval très loin dans les villes, Quay West, In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, Return to the Desert, Black Battles with Dogs, Sallinger, Bitterness, Heritage,Procès ivre, La Marche), and of his theatre science. Lorenzo and Jean also see in it a theatrical challenge that not even Patrice Chéreau, (the French director who discovered Koltès) ever took up.
But who is Roberto Zucco?
He is a virus, according to what Lorenzo and Jean write in their latest Carnet de bord, number 4. “Zucco is a virus! Maybe the mirror image of another virus, the one that consumed Bernard-Marie Koltès, and that he locked inside this fabulously beautiful last play. ” Zucco is often seen as society’s victim, and a criminal in the Annecy region, in France. Lorenzo and Jean prefer instead to see him as a tragic hero, with a pure internal violence connected to his mother’s death. The hero’s body and soul go through wind, fire, a rain of ashes: a sort of atomic snow that shakes Roberto’s inner space and ineluctably leads him to commit suicide.
In a way, the two friends, connected by poetry, talk here about the suicide of humanity, like an infinite variation on the myth of Oedipus.