Les Démons

Reviewer's rating

This season, the legendary Comédie Française takes on Dostoyevsky. Barely two years after Ivo Van Hove’s majestic and disturbing adaptation of The Damned, Guy Cassiers presents another story of extreme violence motivated by political purposes. Only, instead of being set in the early 20th Century in Germany, it takes place in the 1870s in Russia.

Just like his colleague Ivo Van Hove and many other directors in the past few years, Guy Cassiers decided to use a live camera and screens on stage. The video stage set-up used by the director is a complicated and impressive one: the actors are meters apart on stage, not facing one another and looking into the void, but they appear next to each other on-screen. If it is technically impressive, this pretentious set-up is absurdly complicated, and its shallow message does not do justice to the depth of Dostoyevsky’s work. Instead of highlighting the text, the set-up buries it in a technical parade.

Even the set design was forgotten at the expence of the three screens. It lacks ideas and it is really not striking when it could have provided an interesting background to the characters’ ideals and stories.

The actors of the Comédie Française, divided by this odd mise-en-scène, weakly embody their characters as their disincarnated acting lacks deeply in emotions. Even their voice seems robotic as they talk into microphones. The cast is not a bad one, but even the usually brilliant Suliane Brahim – the haunting, mysterious outsider – and Christophe Montenez – the perverse prodigal son seen as a prophet – disappoint. They appear to play caricatures of what they usually play.

The only actor persuasive enough is Stéphane Varupenne as Chatov, the character who bears Dostoyevsky’s ideals, but the lack of support from the rest of the cast overcast his excellent performance.  The text he recites falls flat and meaningless as the spectator is distracted by the screens.

To see such an interesting text and a good cast in a weak, perform this uninteresting, and pretentious production, is disappointing. We can only hope that the Comédie Française will present more interesting, breath-taking shows soon.

Résumé en français:

Cette adaptation des Démons de Dostoïevski à la Comédie Française est des plus décevantes : cette fascinante fresque historique se noie dans le dispositif complexe et certes techniquement brillant du metteur en scène Guy Cassiers. Si les liens entre théâtre et vidéo peuvent être riches et créer de nouvelles possibilités de mise-en-scène, ici la vidéo ne fait qu’écraser la mise en scène théâtrale : les comédiens sont éloignés les uns des autres et ne se regardent pas, leur jeu perd tout sens, et la faiblesse du résultat discrédite la tentative avant-gardiste du metteur en scène.