Interview with Jean Lambert-wild
Where did the idea of adapting “Splendour and lassitude of Captain Marion Déperrier” stem from?
This idea occurred to me two years ago. At the time, we were in Japan to prepare for the tour of Comment ai-je pu tenir là-dedans ? on the invitation of Satoshi Miyagi, the director of SPAC (Shizuoka Performing Arts Center). We had been introduced to their resident company and had seen a play in Japanese… It was a strange experience as I was tired and jet-lagged, and, obviously, because I don’t speak a word of Japanese. But an absolutely amazing actor kept me awake despite my tiredness: Keita Mishima. I immediately wanted to work with him. Keita Mishima will come to France and I will travel to Japan for several work sessions, in the hope we can build a show that is both powerful and light.
The original “Splendour and lassitude of Captain Marion Déperrier” is very poetic; it also refers to specific historical events: how do you contemplate its translation, both from a linguistic and a cultural point of view?
This raises a number of issues. Our first translation was not quite good enough and my Japanese colleagues didn’t really understand the text. Our interpreter Akihito Hirano has since been entrusted with the translation and he’s done a fantastic job. It's a complicated endeavour because I have a very poetic style that is rhythmic and extremely vivid. I also play with the semantic plurality of some words, which requires extreme care: some turns of phrase don’t have equivalents so alternatives must be found. Thus, we changed the name of Captain Marion Déperrier to Iwatani Izumi: the name conveys both toughness and femininity, as is the case in French. I will also spend time listening to Mishima, to make sure the Japanese and French scansions are similar: there should be no disparity. If the text is misunderstood, it will become no more than a strange text about war. As for cultural translation, it is quite a task. I had to completely rewrite some parts to suit the figure of a Japanese soldier. So we'll spend a lot of time reviewing the translation and the codes of interpretation, picking songs and deciding how to interpret them. I’m really interested in pushing the codes of representation to their limits. When collaborating with an actor like Mishima, anything is possible.
Does working with an actor such as Keita Mishima require a specific scenic perspective? How do you envisage recreating the character of Captain Marion Déperrier in a Japanese context?
I would really like the show to be performed in a variety of locations – that entails a versatile set and design. I really want to focus on the actor’s work: a complex scenography could be problematic when adapting the show to new locations whereas an actor has no such impediments. I researched the clothes worn by soldiers. For instance, I was interested in the senninbari tradition, which dates back to the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. It is a strip of white fabric, about one meter in length, decorated with a thousand red stiches. Soldiers wore it as a belt and it was believed to give them courage, luck and immunity, particularly against bullets. According to the legend, though the senninbari was the work of the warrior’s mother, sister or wife, each stich was hand-embroidered by a different woman. The belts allowed these women to remain symbolically in touch with the men who went to war. Women's hair or coins were sometimes used as embellishments. The idea is that, in the first part of the show, Captain Iwatani Izumi will be wearing a fine uniform, and he will be naked in the second part, with a senninbari wrapped around his waist.
You also mentioned looking for songs?
We are looking for songs: forgotten military or old Japanese songs. While performing them, Keita will Mishima will be wearing makeup and holding a sword as well as a fan in order to play on two aspects -brutal violence and femininity- just as one would in kabuki theatre. It will be a kind of war cabaret in which the Captain can suddenly break into song. Incidentally, the cabaret dimension existed in the original version: at one point, a red curtain closed and the Captain came to the front of the stage and tap-danced between two majorettes. It was a truly theatrical moment. Finding him behind the curtain afterwards, naked and muddy, came as a great surprise. I find it interesting to play with these codes.
How do you think such codes of representation, and the songs you choose, will resonate for a Japanese audience?
This is an important question: whether a song resonates, or whether it doesn’t. I think some songs instantly sound like poems, even if they’re not often heard or are unknown to us. It’s not so much about choosing songs that are familiar to a Japanese audience, and more about picking meaningful songs in relation to the text. Checking that they work rhythmically, what the lyrics say and at what point text and song work in continuity or in counterpoint... Singing is a tradition that is still part of Japanese culture, unlike French culture. Just think how popular karaoke is. People sing a lot! Using this tradition is interesting to me.
Is singing central to the question of the actor's work, in this context?
I am indeed very interested in some Japanese theatre traditions, such as the Suzuki method. A lot of acting techniques in France are now solely based around theories, while a significant relationship to the body, movements and physicality remains in Japanese actor training. For the original version of the play, I was already inspired by Japanese films, such as Fires on the plain or The Human Condition. I am pursuing and deepening this research. It is interesting to show an actor scenes from a film that suggest a relationship to the body, movement and space. I draw from this fantasy to provide the actor with a direction, and invite him to suggest some to me, between violence, femininity and humour. This will allow me to learn a great deal about the relationship between movement and voice, and I think it can generate a lot of emotion. I cannot imagine performing a movement in theatre that does not hold its own language within.
Why did you choose to revive this particular text, which falls within your Hypogeum project?
When you meet actors, you simply know which texts were written for them. I originally wrote this with an actor of his calibre in mind. Watching Keita Mishima perform, I saw Déperrier as I had imagined him. This is the first project I set up through a network of professionals, thanks to a grant from the National Book Centre. I was the unsuspecting winner of the grant because my manuscript had been sent without my knowledge! Revisiting this work fourteen years later allows me to develop ideas that were only embryonic in the first version, such as this odd war cabaret. As for the character, it is interesting to note that there is a Japanese tradition in which people are entirely developed around a code of honour that goes beyond reality. It is the case of Déperrier in the text, it was my great uncle Jean Déperrier’s case (who has been my inspiration for this work), and it will be the case for captain Iwatani Izumi.
Does this adaptation make sense due to the figure of Déperrier?
Amongst other things, yes, it is related to the fact that the character has an equally feminine and masculine dimension. He is a brutal warrior, but also a mad and confused aesthete. He is both repulsive and totally seductive, because he is human. This character creates total catharsis: he is hard on himself, but at the same time, and that is what is most terrifying, we can only feel love for him. When he dies, we love him even more. We even love his corpse. He is a war maniac, but mostly a lost man. Many things came together in the writing of this text. As often, writing only exists because it is imbued with its own reality. Revisiting this character and seeing what he had to say was interesting, particularly in a world where wars reappear in different forms – inevitably – but with similar effects. Some texts age badly because they are built around the theatrical codifications of the moment. Others are timeless because these codifications are less strong than the substance they frame. My writing stance being a poetic one, I do hope this text has the ability to adapt. Another version of this play is currently in progress in Africa: “Splendour and lassitude of sergeant major Abouda Diop”, to be performed by Fargass Assandé. Assandé adapted the figure of Déperrier to that of a Senegalese infantryman. Codes keep changing, so do conventions, however, poetry offers strong resistance. The idea is to reorganise its substance in order to make it relevant.
Interview by Eugénie Pastor
13 Octobre 2012