Four centuries separate “Richard II”, the five acts play by Shakespeare from “Seul Richard”, (Richard Alone) of Thierry Fournier’s stage production inspired by it. It is well known, the great human wonders at the heart of the English playwright’s work are timeless, but the “context” in which they are re-presented makes it possible to highlight other aspects, other angles… To find an echo within the quite autistic technological modernity of certain forms of “traditional” expressions…
This is the very purpose of Thierry Fournier’ work on body and sound, gesture and narration, movement and space, transfigured by audio-visual techniques and devices which enable to establish new groundbreaking principles.
“Seul Richard” is a “work in progress”. Can you describe the stages which marked the development of this theatre production, since his beginning in 2006 up to its present form?
Last November, half of the show (45’ out of a total of 1:30) was presented at the Chartreuse theatre, following two consecutive residences. The process took place in three steps: a first sketch in 2006-2007, the adaptation and making of a film in 2008-2009, and rehearsals in 2010, with Emmanuelle Lafon, Juliette Fontaine and Jean-FranÁois Robardet. “Work in progress” means that we are currently looking for the last co-producer who will be able to host the project’s presentation. This is a common practice, today, for companies to complete whole stages of the work while still seeking partners.
For numerous reasons, our work on this project has thus been ongoing for five years. It was led at the same time as the ConfÈrences du dehors series of performances (which I directed), and RÈanimation, produced with Samuel Bianchini and Sylvain Prunenec – both in 2008. His research on the links between dramaturgy, cinema and interactive devices were conducted at the ?cole Nationale SupÈrieure d’Art in Nancy as part of Electroshop, the research and creation workshop – whose students also act in the film. Lastly, he directed Richard II translated by François-Victor Hugo, with a solo actress, an interactive device, a film with amateurs and musicians. The project does not evidently match the skills usually found in live performance networks. Its production thus requires more time than the average play and the possibility to show the work in progress.
Which “progress” and other developments can you imagine?
The form we reached by the end of November really is the one I wish to implement. Today we need to work on the light and on playing on a stage (until now we were in the rehearsal studio). We are starting collaborations with this in mind.
Why have precisely chosen Shakespeare (“Richard II”) for this type of “multi-media” production which mixes video, narration and interaction…?
It is rather the opposite, this is the core of the project. I was actualy attracted by this play for what it tells of the practice and loss of power. The text was presented to me by BenoÓt RÈsillot, an actor with whom the very first stages of the project were worked out. I then devised a proposal bringing into play this remoteness and this relation of control and loss of control, between a man and the outside world. Indeed an interactive device is initially and above all an instrument of control, in a relationship which is always exerted in a reciprocal way: one plays and one is being played, one controls and one is being controlled, by a console or by Facebook all the same.
In Seul Richard, these devices are accepted as such, forming an integral part of the logic of the character. To sum up, Richard II depicts the trajectory of a monarch convinced he can escape the laws of reality thanks to his divine nature. Faced with events he does not comprehend, his permanent questioning about himself and what he represents lead him to dismissal, prison and death. I chose to stage this relationship between Richard and the outside world by working with a film, which is manipulated and re-enacted by the character. The actress carries out control operations, but also is in command of distance or absorption in the picture, clarification, blur, etc One cannot tell whether the image is outside her or if it results from her own thought.
This relation is reinforced by the fact that the film is shot using Steadicam and point of view: the “gesture” of the camera is constantly reproduced by the actress on stage. Besides, I chose to work mainly with non-professional actors. The fragility of their presence on the picture is opposed to the apparent oratorical skills of Richard, at the same time as it challenges and contaminates it. The stage projection consists of several video events sometimes projected simultaneously, at different scales, which allow a large number of configurations between the public, the performers and the image. It is seen that the choices are not only made for digital devices, but also for writing logics applied to the film, the stage design, the actors’ direction, etc.
Could other “classical” plays or playwright also have been suited to this “play”?
Yes, of course. It is one of the major and constant challenges for theatre to be able to reinterpret traditional texts with new methods of performance. It is not because these methods imply digital devices that they are cut off from their heritage: History is ongoing, this is still stage production.
Conversely, would you like to resort to more contemporary authors like Beckett or Ionesco with such a stage design?
Yes and for the same reasons – except that these figures rather belong to the last century. All the co-authors of Conférences du dehors are contemporary ones (David Beytelmann, Juliette Fontaine, NoÎlle Renaude, Jean-FranÁois Robardet, Esther Salmona). I would also like to work with authors like Sonia Chiambretto, Philippe Malone, Eli Commins, who have a real knowledge of contemporary social and political issues and who sometimes develop their non-literary writing style from various networks. It was already the case with ConfÈrences du dehors which used texts from real time television, landscape reading… To answer your question in a broader sense, I think one should be careful not to confuse writing and stage production.
Writing is always contextual, therefore we can easily be attracted to texts in which we find our codes. Sadly, this is the current practice amongst producers. But it is precisely the job of a director to update issues, to make us hear what, in a text from 2011 or 1170, can be revealed as a permanent and trigger an essential question.
Your previous performances (“Vers Agrippine, Reanimation, Core”) also used images, glances, gestures, redefined spaces… Can you clarify the ongoing guiding principles in your artistic work?
I’d like to add Conférences du dehors, for the reasons I mentioned before. It is interesting you should refer to Core or Vers Agrippine (but also Frost) which are solo performances. Because one of the principles in my work is definitely to stage the body, almost in the sense evoked by Foucault: a traversed body, disseminated by the forces which connect it to the world, sometimes in conflict, exposed through situations and devices. I understood afterwards this had been leading me from music to architecture, then to my current artistic practice.
Which artistic devices or techniques, would you like to use or explore in the future?
I am increasingly interested in the relationships of domination at work and the transformation of nature. These two themes are widely displayed through globalization. Right now, I am also tackling questions about the genre which has been running through my work for a long time, in an underlying way. Lastly, I am getting closer again to sculpture and architecture, which started to appear in works like Frost, A+ or Point d’orgue.
Finally, apart from “Seul Richard”, are you currently working on other projects?
I am working on Hotspot, an installation made with the Electroshop workshop, which will be presented in April at the Contexts space, in Paris. Still in the Nancy area, the Cohabitation group show (which I co-curated with Jean-François Robardet) will be presented at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy from February 5th to February 25th. From February 27th to March 4th, Entrelacs by the choreographer Lionel Hoche, whose interactive video work I designed, will be performed at the CND in Pantin. Then the Futur en Seine festival in June, in Paris with a new installation, Augmented window, whose permanent version will be created afterwards in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Interview by Laurent Diouf