The Devil’s Wardrobe by ROBERT ABIRACHED


The Devil’s Wardrobe benefits from a special place in Jean Lambert-wild’s abundant body of work. At first glance, it is almost impossible to recognise in it the beautiful and bold style of his work, with its dazzling outbursts and powerful language – a language that calls on both delightful archaisms and a ready-to-bounce creativity. For it is, as far as I’m aware, Jean Lambert-wild’s only commissioned work to date, one based on exogenous elements. It is also the only work he has staged himself without assigning it a position in the overall architecture he has been building, one work at a time, most often as a team, at the head of a multidisciplinary group he leads.

It premiered in Hungarian in Budapest in 2013 with the troupe of the National Theatre Nemzeti Színház. So what is this piece – which the author seems far from having disowned, and is perhaps waiting to stage in France – about? Feeding off traditional storytelling sources, it seems to me that it is a counterpoint to the rest of his work, displaying connections to folklore and popular theatre. Jean Lambert-wild has always proclaimed his love of magic and, I quote: "the mysterious joys of a world where illusion probes our conscience." His ambition is undoubtedly to show the hidden side of things by forcing "the logic of the irrational" upon them and cramming adventures in with communicative glee.

Once the curtain is raised (if one still plans on raising a physical curtain), we see two characters standing face to face on each side of an invisible wall. They are perfectly integrated - the first, Marichka, a mother as strong as a dragon – to everyday life and its miseries, while the other – Miklos, as nonchalant as a gypsy movie star – is skilled at deploying disturbing fantasies whose meaning will emerge gradually throughout the play. He is engaged in a strange activity, tenderly cuddling the carcass of a black hen. The first major theme of the tale thus emerges quickly, first implicitly, then with increasing intensity. All in praise of his hen’s abilities, Miklos is quick to assert that she lays her eggs by feeding off his memory, pecks at his words and meets the needs of men who "are hungry for stories" and that “in each of her eggs lies the gold of a tale". She is, so to speak, the guarantor of Miklos’ freedom and in return, she gains his knowledge and his dreams. Opposite the young man, Marichka launches a lament that balances out his statements: she praises milk, which stands for all earthly foods, because it seems obvious to her that words do not feed anyone. It is milk that children need, and it is milk that the old lame devil in the wardrobe keeps asking for to anyone who will listen.

From there, Jean Lambert-wild devises a cascade of events, puzzles, riddles and surprises that challenge the world around, yet no one can be deceived by the situation that has come to be and its consequences: there must be someone to blame for the shortage of milk, someone behind famine – the cardinal source of human misery. Marichka denounces God, though she doesn’t believe in him ("If I find him," she adds, "I will kill him"). The black hen, who has suddenly come back to life, denounces the organisation of the world in a strong speech that the most seasoned trade unionists would second: "You are being lied to! You are being lied to", she shouts. "Milk is everywhere!” But it is confiscated by rulers and powerful men who organise and exploit the misfortunes of men. Miklos flies off with his most recent bride, and his last call is a praise of freedom and hope.

We finally reach the last stage of the tale, opening on an ultimate vision of the world that was dangled in front of us throughout the performance. As we have seen, the theme of God's absence has steadily and strongly imposed itself in the last twists of the story. "I'm going to retire”, announces the devil, “and wait for God to fall off his cross. " Nevertheless, Marichka believes that there will always be people to preach God, so she turns away from this issue in favour of her son’s two main tunes, who relentlessly exalted the recourse of dreams and the need to keep alive the memory of the world, which is born, through thick and thin, by human memory. To the listener or the viewer’s surprise, there is a final (and sudden) nod to theatre, which, through the power of fiction, gives glory and consistency to passing time and scattered existence. But to whom refuses to accept the idea of salvation through art, Jean Lambert-wild offers a fairly cheeky loophole - the last words of his text are hardly visible stage directions in small print, maliciously stating: "They sneeze. "