Skip to main content

Katie Mitchell – La Maladie de la Mort

There’s a line at the end of La Maladie de la Mort, the late period novella by Marguerite Duras that translates to English as The Malady of Death. ‘The Malady of Death’ it states, ‘could be staged in the theatre.’ There then follows several pages of musings regarding any staging of her story that are as meticulously detailed as anything Samuel Beckett might have written regarding movement, stage pictures and possible use of film, only to end with a typically elliptical and deliciously contrary ‘All this by way of general suggestion.’

More than thirty years after the French-born novelist, playwright and film-maker penned her first person study of intimate exchanges, director Katie Mitchell and writer Alice Birch have risen to the challenge with a provocative and daring staging of Duras’ book.

Created for the Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord and co-produced with numerous European partners, including Edinburgh International Festival, Mitchell’s production now arrives in Edinburgh as part of EIF’s season of work presented by the Paris-based centre where Peter Brook has been based since 1974.

While retaining the essence of Duras’ story about a man and the woman he hires to spend several weeks with him in a hotel in the vain hope of discovering love, Mitchell and Birch are also looking to subvert the traditions of the male gaze to reinvent it in a way which has accidentally chimed with the rise of the #MeToo age.

It’s a piece with a secret,” says Mitchell of both the play and the book it is freely adapted from. “The syntax of the prose writing is so beautiful, but here is a man whose attempts to love are always frustrated. Why did he have this malady, and why was this woman able to sort it?

“Looking at it now in terms of gender politics, quite a few things need addressing. Third way feminism had come in during the 1980s, and that put paid to a lot of particulars when Alice and I started to look at it. Why would a woman go to a room with a man and do everything that man wanted her to do?”

To try and contextualise this, Birch and Mitchell have made the woman a sex worker in a hi-tech production which puts two actors onstage as they are filmed, with live black and white footage of the couple’s intimacies running alongside a voice-over by international actress Irene Jacob. This raises issues of voyeurism, the numbing effects of online pornography and the patriarchal notion of the male gaze again.

Looking at Duras’ own relationship to feminism, I realised it was ambivalent,” says Mitchell.

The last time a work by Duras appeared at EIF was in 1998, when Flemish wunderkind Ivo van Hove brought his staging of India Song to Edinburgh. Originally commissioned by the National Theatre in 1972, it remained unproduced, and was filmed in 1975. Van Hove took the play and turned it into a sensuous experience without a word spoken onstage. Since then, sightings of Duras’ work has been rare. Only this year did her work appear on the same stage as La Maladie de la Mort, when the Lyceum produced an adaptation of what is probably Duras’ most famous novel, The Lover, notoriously filmed through a very male looking glass in 1992.

Duras was in her sixties when she wrote La Maladie de la Mort, and had a long back catalogue that moved between prose, drama and film, consistently reinventing works for each medium as she went. In this respect, the sparseness of her prose works lends itself to be made flesh onstage with ease. As for challenging the patriarchy, “We’ve got a lot to do,” says Mitchell, “and I’m always optimistic.”

Mitchell quotes playwright Caryl Churchill.

“I remember her saying to me that feminism is a movement that’s only been around for a hundred years, and that maybe we need to be patient.”

La Maladie de la Mort, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 16-18, 8pm, August 18-19, 3pm.

The Herald, August 14th 2018


ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug