By Bernard-Marie Koltès
Translation into English by Sinéad Rushe
Performed by BA Acting CDT and BA Theatre Practice students,
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London.
Performed 28 February-3 March 2018
Webber Douglas Studio, RCSSD, London.
Bernard-Marie Koltès (1948-1989) was the greatest French playwright of his generation, and Night (La nuit juste avant les forêts) is one of his most captivating and unsettling texts.
The story of an isolated young immigrant in a hostile city, Koltès said he wrote it like a musical composition, whose motifs and variations evoke a profound sense of restless yearning and disorientation. This pathbreaking production in a new translation reimagines the original monologue as a polyphonic work for five performers of different nationalities and genders, a chorus of fragmented parts that resonate with each other in harmony and dissonance.
Direction: Sinéad Rushe
Sound design: Niels Lanz
Associate sound design: Joe Dines
Assistant direction and understudy: Youness Bouzinab
Set design: Egle Dambrauskaite
Lighting design: Corrie Harris
Lighting production: Tobias Gamble
Stage management: James Kiell and Gemma Martin
Production management: Gareth Edwards
Documentation: Jamie Chandler and Youness Bouzinab
Callan Purcell/Youness Bouzinab
Jessica Williamson at Judy Daish Associates
Although written as a one-person play, a sort of stream-of-consciousness appeal to an uncertain audience, we intensify its precarity and instability, as well as its peculiar intimacy, by refracting the monologue into a polyphonic work for five performers of different nationalities and genders.
The protagonist is undoubtedly a foreigner, a misfit, but more importantly, he is searching for a way somehow to be himself, or who he wants to be, without the luxury of being able to rely on a stable, pre-established sense of self. I believe that for Koltès a character, like a place or a country, is not a point of departure but a construct or result, the assumption of an ever-contested role.
Here, we explore whether it is possible to de-essentialise the voice of the protagonist without losing the specificity of the political relations between French and Arab cultures evoked in the play – the tense, tangled history shaped by the exploitation and oppression of Maghrébin immigrants, their exclusion in marginalised ‘banlieues’, the similarities that link their plight to that of other emancipatory struggles to which Koltès was passionately committed, in West Africa and Latin America. Though it wrestles with postcolonial legacies and urban alienation, I believe that Night is best read as a dramatisation of a more general human condition, a demonstration that every claim to self-sufficiency and transparency is an illusion.
Koltès said he wrote the play like a musical composition, a Bach fugue. A fugue is less a linear progression leading to a resolution than the exploration of an increasingly dense and complex space created through variations of its motifs. By staging Night as a fugue for five voices, as a ‘stereophonic’ articulation of character, the first person singular is split into distinct component strands, that converge and diverge so as to evoke an ever more finely spaced experience of the self, at once both more precarious and more assertive. The voice that emerges is one that could belong to almost anyone, a universal protest, an admission of vulnerability, an open cry for help.
As well as the London performances, we undertook three days research in 2017 at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London and performed a version of the show at the Macau Arts Festival 2018 in collaboration with Dirks Theatre Arts Association.