Theater: Demons of Illusion



The demons

by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, directed by Guy Cassiers

At the Comédie-Française, in Paris

It is a world in decline where ideals are shattered against obscurantism. We are in the Russia of the 1860s, young nihilists use violence against a life they hate, not so far from the beginning of a third millennium scarred by terrorism.

Literature sheds light on the intimate course of history, more singularly still when it is brought to the stage. For his first creation at the Comédie-Française, the Antwerp director Guy Cassiers embarked on the abundant text of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The demons, disturbing mirror of our contemporary societies.

A sumptuous decor

The majestic scenography of Tim Van Steenbergen, who also signs the costumes, is inspired by the Crystal Palace, built for the London Universal Exhibition of 1851 and plays on transparencies: snow through the tile, the day which falls or even this chamber orchestra very present in the background before disappearing… It was only a video image, Guy Cassiers’ favorite tool, a master in the art of handling illusion.

The room opens in Varvara’s living room – Dominique Blanc formidable in the skin of the terrible matron. She wants to marry her adopted daughter, the sweet Dacha (Claïna Clavaron), to old Stepane (Hervé Pierre), an intellectual who has lived on her hook for more than twenty years … But Dacha is in love with Nikolaï, Christophe Montenez whose fits of laughter sardonic make you shiver. In the course of a complex intrigue, which Cassiers leads with clarity, will also emerge Maria (Suliane Brahim), the secret wife of Nikolai, and the revolutionaries to which the latter joins. They will do the worst, but then aren’t they on the wrong target?

Through a radical bias, the director formally materializes the dislocation of values, deplored by Dostoyevsky, as well as the fragmentation of minds and relationships. Thus, throughout the first part of the play, the actors each play on one side of the stage, turn their backs when they dialogue but, filmed live, their face-to-face is reconstituted by two screens overlooking the stage.

→ ARCHIVES. Guy Cassiers invites Avignon spectators to the Devil’s Table, forever.

The sophistication of the device – until the intervention of actors doubling the hand of such and such – and the finesse of the game that it demands subjugate for a moment then seem to turn to the exercise of style, gradually suffocating the actors in an artificial straitjacket. The return to a more direct configuration will give the piece a second wind until the last scenes are captured where a salutary disturbance ends up winning.

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