Les Amis de Paul (Paul’s Friends)

Reviewer's rating

Les Amis de Paul is a play built around the theme of violence, and it is divided into two parts: the first one occurs in an unnamed ex-Soviet country, and the second one happens five years later, in Paris. The contrast is striking, but the two settings prove to be the stage of equally cruel violence. It tells the story of Paul (Denis D’Yvoire), a young French journalist buying compelling stories from the young Ania (Camille Remy) in a country deeply wounded by war, and how he becomes famous in the Parisian bourgeoisie by manipulating the truth and presenting himself as a hero in his book, five years later.

The production design is simple and efficient: on a dark stage stands a red formica table, circled by two red formica chairs. A piece of wall marks the limit between the comfort of the house and the outside world – where the danger is. The formica table fits as well in the modest, Eastern European household as it does in the snobbish, arty Parisian milieu. This clever and simple stage design leaves space for the actors to shine. 

By adopting a very over-the-top kind of acting to embody stereotypical characters, the cast does a good job highlighting the absurdity of violence using dark humour and a great deal of irony. Perhaps the slightly different acting style of Antoine Cafaro, who plays the mute soldier and the keen social worker, makes him stand out in these two secondary roles that he excels in, by being subtle enough and avoiding stereotypical representations. Camille Remy is also surprising in the way that she brings depth to her quite stereotypical character. Ania is very touching in the show’s first part, reappropriating the cliché of the sexualised Eastern European woman and embodying the character as a touching young girl who struggles to survive in her bleak world while dreaming of being Beyoncé in a shiny dress. 

However, the show’s second part fails to be as convincing as the first one. The snobbish Parisian elite that it depicts seems completely out of touch with the distraught and struggling characters from the first part. Though the contrast creates an interesting sense of absurdity, it also makes the show a bit incoherent and uneven.

Summary in French 

Les Amis de Paul est une pièce violente et remplie d’humour noir: les thèmes abordés sont difficiles, frôlent l’indicible et le tabou, et l’auteur fait le choix de les traiter avec une bonne dose d’absurdité. En résulte un spectacle à la mise en scène simple mais efficace, avec un unique décor – une table et deux chaises en formica rouge – qui unit les deux parties du spectacle, se déroulant respectivement dans un pays en guerre d’Europe de l’Est et dans le milieu bourgeois de l’édition à Paris. Malgré des personnages très stéréotypés et une intensité variable, la pièce parvient à faire ressentir la cruauté et l’absurdité des milieux qu’elle dépeint.