Fiat Lux Nouvelles Folies
Purcell Room 16 January 200
Nouvelles Folies is a charming play without words. Set in a Breton fishing village, it tells the story of a chic city couple who arrive on the coast for their holidays and find themselves, in their delightful rustic beach front property, next door neighbours with an idiosyncratic and profoundly unwelcoming group of local fishermen. When the self-absorbed urbanite with his long suffering down-trodden wife meets the five strong troupe of overalled but far from overawed yokels, the potential for light, joyful and hilarious character exchange is huge and fully taken advantage of by Didier Guyon and his fellow performers.
This piece is pure physical clowning. Each character is built up as an individual, easily recognisable from life, and engaging in just that sort of ridiculous and bathetic human exchange that makes us realise how seriously we tend to take real life. There is an easy two-way relationship between character and storyline here: the absolute commitment to character and to the development of character makes the piece strongly logical and gives us a clear and direct narrative storyline. Likewise, a clearly structured and eventful storyline makes room for constant revelation of character.
Time and time again what we see is the glimpse of an idea, beginning to blossom as it engages the collective imagination, until finally it engulfs the entire stage and all the characters to give us not just a good laugh but a more developed sense of who these people are. So when yuppie boy, all holidayed up in Bermuda shorts and white socks, nicks his wife’s newspaper to read out on the decking, we are gradually led into a slickly choreographed and hilarious sequence of paper stealing and reading that takes in and develops all the characters. Ultimately we have a beautiful visual gag as a strong wind attacks the papers in a witty synchronised swirling display, and also a clarification of the two character groups as the city slickers angrily lose their papers to onlooking chuckles from the adept coastal Bretons.
This piece is testament to how magical and funny the human imagination can be when left free to play. There is an easy and inventive interaction between character and prop, for example when the cabbage leaves which the fishermen are preparing for dinner become playing cards in a high stakes game of poker which then develops into an Olympic fencing match with cabbage leaf masks and a dramatic audience of sighing, leak-fanned ladies.
Although it could be seen as pure human folly, this piece is not without political content, and it is here that I get a little uncomfortable. This story of territorial control may have an interesting message in a world of increasingly invasive and self-obsessed tourism. However, there is a slight danger of walking close to the stereotype, most particularly in the portrayal of the yuppie wife. As the only woman in the troupe, it is a bit disappointing that she is weak and victimised, and also that she becomes a trophy in the battle between two groups of male egos. Much as I like the piece and much as I herald the joy of playful physical creation, lets not forget that theatre can be as powerful in enforcing stereotype as in combating it.