A rare opportunity to catch Collectif 8, one of the most sought-after French theater companies, in a hometown gig at Théâtre Gag on April 18.
Had Victor Hugo lived in the 21st century, he would have sent an SMS to Collectif 8 asking them to adapt and direct the theatrical version of his pieces. The company around Gaele Boghossian and Paulo Correia has an incredible knack of condensing a play to its essence, personalizing it, and giving it a hallmark cinematographic look and feel while keeping the integrity of the author’s oeuvre intact. L’Homme Qui Rit is just another successful example of that.
Local theater buffs know Collectif 8 as the company that was intimately connected to Nice and the Théâtre National de Nice under Daniel Benoin. So many fine plays graced the stage over time…. Edgar Allen Poe’s Double Assassinat dans la rue Morgue…. Marivaux’ L’île des esclaves… Corneille’s Médée… and of course the unforgettable Angelo, Tyran de Padoue, another Victor Hugo play, and the farewell gift to the Benoin TNN, starring Marc Duret in the title role. When Daniel Benoin handed over the keys to the new TNN director Irina Brook in 2014, Collectif 8 decided it was time to move on as well, and has since been touring France with a frequency – and even more importantly, a success – that is nothing short of astounding.
With sold-out shows in Marseille, Paris, Avignon, and anywhere in between, it is rare these days that Collectif 8 comes home to Nice. And indeed we are treated to just one day of this talented and utterly creative company’s work when it performs Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui Rit at one of Nice’s most beloved theaters, the Francis Gag, on April 18. One of the venerable author’s lesser known pieces, and set in the 17th century, it is the story of Gwynplaine who is exiled by the king to an island as a child, and is subsequently disfigured to mark him. We share his emotional and mental turmoil trying to survive the ordeal of being on display as the circus attraction, his gradual decline, and his attempt to end his misery. His tale is in essence summed up in these lines:
Je représente l’humanité telle que ses maîtres l’ont faite.
L’homme est un mutilé.
Ce qu’on m’a fait, on l’a fait au genre humain.
On lui a déformé le droit, la justice, la vérité, la raison, l’intelligence,
Comme à moi les yeux, les narines et les oreilles;
Comme à moi, on lui a mis au coeur un cloaque de colère et de douleur,
et sur la face un masque de contentement.
One of Victor Hugo’s more sordid and sombre plays, it is an autobiography of sorts, and a thinly veiled social criticism, written in 1869 when the author was banned to the Channel Islands after having been exiled from his native France because of the controversial political content of his previous novels. At the same time the play has an eerily contemporary flavour, alluding to child trafficking and the negative consequences of freedom of expression. Political and philosopical issues intersect, as timeless and pertinent 150 years ago as they are now, and Gaele has once again managed to elegantly, and eloquently, bridge the centuries in her adaptation.
In a deviation of standard procedure, brilliant actress Gaele Boghossian is trading places with her partner, gifted director Paulo Correia, who in this play is supported on stage by Collectif 8’s excellent resident actor Paul Chariéras (as Ursus), and Niçois-Parisian actress Melissa Prat (as Déa) who works with the company occasionally. Created at the Théâtre Anthéa in Antibes in May 2014, the play has since toured France with enormous success, reaping standing ovations wherever it goes, not least because Gaele Boghossian perfectly understood how to bring a light and airy note to a less than cheerful topic while respecting the author’s intended depth and sobriety.
This play in itself is absolutely not to be missed when it stops for just one show at the Théâtre Francis Gag in Nice on Saturday, 18th April, and even less so because it is performed by the excellent Collectif 8.
Tickets cost €18 and may be booked by calling 04 92 00 78 50. And, as a special offer for RIVIERA BUZZ readers, you can get your tickets for just €14 by emailing Vanessa in Collectif 8. You have to act fast though…!
Théâtre Niçois Francis Gag
4, rue Saint-Joseph
Tel: 04 92 00 78 50
Natja Igney is a senior global communications strategist with 1021 Global Communications Consulting. She has a particular interest in theatre and filmmaking.
All photos courtesy Collectif 8