Yet another show where the focus is entirely on the big screen? In part, yes. For twenty years now, the company La Cordonnerie has been adapting fairy tales and striving to blur the boundaries between film and theater. To achieve this, Métilde Weyergans and Samuel Hercule, the authors-actors-musicians, begin by shooting a (silent) movie which they screen during the performance adding the sound effects live and playing all the characters of the story. The result is stunning for this tale inspired by Grimm’s work, created in 2015.
Here Hansel and Gretel are no longer children abandoned by their parents, but two retired magicians living with their son Jacob, an unemployed thirty year-old who sleeps in a small caravan parked in a wasteland on the edge of the forest.
With vintage sets and big collar disco shirts, the action is clearly set in the ‘70s. Times are tough, the plates are empty. The parents are penniless since they’ve been fired from “The Circus Ring”, the program they hosted on TV. Nevertheless, they keep their deep rooted sense of humor. Hansel (Michel Crémadès) still gets a kick out of resting his skeleton’s hand on Gretel’s (Manuela Gourary) hand.
Weyergans and Hercule are aces at creating sound effects out of nothing. They rustle a plastic wrapper to imitate an egg sizzling in the pan, stamp on a pile of photo negatives to evoke footsteps in the forest. It’s lighthearted and highly entertaining. Two musicians (piano, drums) perform the musical score for the full hour. Flawless.
In the Grimm brothers’ version of the story, the father gives in to the cruel stepmother. Here, it is the naive son, who gives in to Barbara, a troubling dark-haired woman he has fallen in love with. She has him under her spell and persuades him to abandon his parents in the woods. That’s two less mouths to feed!
Even if there is a happy ending – our heroes make it back to the caravan after a short stay with the witch – we are struck by the new dimension given to the tale, its cruelty. Elderly people abandoned by their families and relations…there’s nothing fantastical about that. Is the witch who devours our elderly waiting in the forest? She’s got the wrong address, the retirement homes are full.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
French actors Métilde Weyergans and Samuel Hercule exuberantly distort our childhood fairytales. Their shows cast a spell on you as with “Udo, gone completely east” showing at the Vidy Theater until Saturday. Fanciful words.
She is so good at being evil that we long to be clawed by her. He is so good at being candid that we are certain to be comforted by him. She is Métilde Weyergans. Her given name is from a novel by Stendhal – she is the daughter of the novelist François Weyergans. He is Samuel Hercule. His surname sends out visions of old-fashioned circus acts, brass bands huffing and puffing and red-faced lion tamers sliding their heads between a feline’s fangs.
These two are a couple in real life and a harmonious duo on stage. Their shows are fairytales twisted out of shape, the morals of the tales sown with gold thread. So it is with their stunning “Snow White or the Fall of the Berlin Wall” performed three weeks ago at the Vidy Theater and again with “Udo, gone completely east”, the imaginary story of Snow White’s father, playing now until Saturday at the same venue.
The Grimm brothers corrected
Their magic spell? To use film as the raw material for their theater, using a trick inspired by the Lumière brothers.
In “Snow White”, they screen a silent movie – which they shot themselves in a social housing block – in which the evil step-mother, her step-daughter, Prince Charming and the seven dwarves come to life. Méthilde dubs all the female voices live. Samuel produces the sound effects of the intrigue and three amazing musicians electrify the magical extravaganza. This approach to their craft has led La Cordonnerie – the company’s name – to travel all over France and cross the Oceans…they corrected the Grimm brothers almost two hundred times last year.
Snow White in a Social Housing block
Here they are now in the middle of the hubbub of Vidy’s foyer, still shaken up after breaking the stepmother’s mirror. With his sport’s jacket defending the colors of Brazil, he looks like a football player who has just stepped out of the shower. With her dress decorated with geometric motifs, her fierce slenderness, she’s right out of Renoir’s “Rules of the game”. When asked how they concoct their shows Samuel replies: We had just finished a show based on “Hansel and Gretel”, and we wanted to continue with the Grimm brothers. What interested us in “Snow White” was the idea of the symbolic wall between Snow White (Blanche) and her stepmother.
Our imagination wanders: Métilde and Samuel brainstorming on the couch inventing absurd stories like Lewis Caroll’s Alice meeting Geppetto, Pinocchio’s father. The Berlin Wall rises suddenly in the middle of the conversation, the symbol of an evil we thought was unshakable.
She: “It’s a constant game of Pingpong between us”.
He: “Since we’re a couple, our work sessions are ongoing.”
A screenplay materializes that somehow includes the jubilant moment of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. A casting gets underway to find the Snow White of their dreams. Then the film is shot in an area where the only redeeming feature is its name: Le chateau. The musician, Timothée Jolly, composes a dynamic score. Two years pass by, one thing leading to another. Then the show springs out of its box, playful to the point of bewitching.
Read the review: Snow White unmasked at last at Vidy
They also met thanks to the world of cinema. Samuel Hercule and his accomplice, Mike Guermyet, had cowritten: “The principle of the couch” – notice the title. They send the short film to the Cannes Festival. Métilde, who is working for the Festival, is the one to announce to Samuel that their opus has been selected in a parallel section. Miracle of the deep and penetrating voices! They soon reel each other in on the Croisette. Love stories often start that way, with the joy of being voluntarily bewitched.
Bérénice on a bicycle
Her deep voice out of “Bérénice on a bicycle” is Méthilde’s huge contribution to La Cordonnerie, the company founded by Samuel in the late 1990s in Lyon. Until then, he brilliantly invented cine-concerts: he would screen films in smoky bars jazzed up by musicians. Where do these two outlandish creatures come from?
He grew up in Lyon. His teenage room was speckled with large brown flowers, he tells us. He listens to Noir Désir and imagines himself as a singer like Bertrand Cantat – his father is a guitar teacher. But some friends drag him onto the stage: “At 17, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, I knew I would be an actor.”
And what was Méthilde like as a teenager? “I lived in the 11th in Paris. When I was 15, I had a large room painted blue by my mother. I can see myself, the walls were bare, I would read out loud from the tragedies of Racine, Phèdre’s monologue and I would cry. I was shy and quite a loner. I grew extremely fast, so at 12 years old I was 1.75 cm tall. This might explain my shyness at the time. I listened to a lot of music, pop and opera, whatever my parents were listening to.”
Jorge Donn, a wild cat Godfather
Is it because her father, François Weyergans, dragged her backstage after the show to see Bejart, his best friend and confidant? Or because Jorge Donn, this wild cat of dance, this quintessential hero of Béjart’s style, is her Godfather? Or because she fell in love with a passionate admirer of the Cid?
Méthilde takes theater classes, blessed by François and her mother, Daniele, a “manual intellectual”. It’s easy to guess what follows: bohemian odd jobs, the pleasure of writing sometimes for various newspapers, «Le Nouvel Observateur», «Libération» etc. And then life opening up when she becomes a mother.
Now Méthilde speaks up confidently: «I love playing the nasty one, I love the nasty ones who aren’t really nasty deep down.» Samuel, the perfect counterpoint, slips in: «I love playing naive characters.» You could listen to them talk until you turn into a pumpkin, she, about her father’s books, her notorious fugues; he, about Marguerite Duras and “Summer rain” that he has so often shared with others. It feels good to be bewitched by two witty spirits.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Snow White unmasked at last at Vidy
Métilde Weyergans and Samuel Hercule revive the tale’s famous evil step-mother in an exhilarating show of great virtuosity, suitable for viewing by groups or families up until Saturday.
Their tale is so good, it would be a shame to miss it. Running at the Théâtre de Vidy until Saturday, the Grimm brothers’ Snow White troubles the reader in a lasting way through the things she confesses to. But she’s not the one to spill the beans, but rather her diabolical step-mother, well known as a sadistic-narcissistic pest. Except that Samuel Hercule and Métilde Weyergans, a couple at home and on stage, have decided to redeem her in the light of current blueprints of family structures.
The evil one pours her heart out, encouraged to confide in us by two wonderful musicians, Timothée Jolly at the piano and Florie Perroud playing percussions. For our greatest pleasure, this “Snow White or the Fall of the Berlin Wall” plays a two-faced game.
But why Berlin and its sinister abscess? For the pleasure of friction, of free association – a wall can hide another wall. As an introduction, Timothée Jolly and Florie Perroud are on the alert behind their instruments, ready to pounce. In the foreground, stage right, a garden gnome chuckles accompanied by fairground music. But he blows up. A song then rises from a crypt. Front stage, Métilde Weyergans, slender as an amazon, fervently states her vision in a chiaroscuro voice. Listen to her.
Blanche and her ennui in the social housing flat
«My name is Elizabeth, I’m 42, and I play the evil part in this tale, the one who, in the end, dies of a broken heart, has her feet burned with a hot iron or loses her mind – that depends on the version…» Timothée Jolly and Florie Perroud are now given free rein, the crew takes off. But now Blanche, a teenager the color of licorice, is on the giant screen, sullen enough to crack the linoleum of her room. She carries her ennui around in the corridors of the social housing block, the aptly named “Kingdom”. Her father, Udo, who is an acrobat, gets a call to work for a great Russian circus. Here’s to the trapeze! From then on, Blanche is dominated by her aerial step-mother Elizabeth – she is a flight attendant – and as severe as the housekeeper in Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
Sound effects, magical craftsmanship
And what about the mirror in all this? It’s about to make an appearance. Elisabeth breaks out into a sweat: «Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful…» The treacherous mirror is true to the original tale, cruel…. Blanche is the most beautiful in the Kingdom.
The story is told through a silent movie dubbed live by Métilde Weyergans and Samuel Hercule. in front of the latter, a conveyor belt gradually feeds him the various sound effect accessories.
It could become a gimmick, but it’s exhilarating.
We derive pleasure from being captive and accomplice to a chain of events. All the elements conspire to delight you, the tricks of a contemporary fairy tale and the musical interludes, the highly precise voice work and the humor of transposition – Prince Charming is delightfully gawky and pimply. On screen we see the Berlin Wall crumble in front of a jubilant crowd. Samuel Hercule is the commentator for this liberation as we sit in our chairs time traveling 20 years back.
This version of Snow White curls around adolescence, with its long body notched with hope. That makes it beautiful. But true to the spirit of la Cordonnerie, a company born in Lyon in 1997, it also breathes into it something precious: the idea that the theater is a box full of magic. Métilde Weyergans and Samuel Hercule turn their play acting into a tale in itself. A piece of happy magic.
January 19, 2017.
The company La Cordonnerie has made the association on stage of music, acting and film their signature. The audience follows the story through a film that is screened above the actor-musicians who interpret the score and create the soundtrack for the film.
“This idea sprang from our desire to make short films to present on stage” recalls Samuel Hercule who founded the company in 1997 before Métilde Weyergans, co-director of the company, joined him in 2003. Both trained as actors, they also work in collaboration with the musician Timothée Jolly. Music is not considered by the company to be a simple illustration through sound of the action on screen. It has the power to create distortion or send the audience into another dimension, like that of the flash-back. Samuel Hercule and Métilde Weyergans are savvy at pointing out the dysfunctions and flaws of our society by re-appropriating famous fairy tales or classical works, whether they draw their inspiration from Snow White as they did for their new and current creation: “Snow White or the Fall of the Berlin Wall”, or Shakespeare for their “(Super) Hamlet”. « When you work with a well-known piece of work, the audience has preconceived idea of what they are going to see. What we enjoy doing is shape that raw material and question what is topical about it, like “Hansel and Gretel” and the place of elderly people in our society today» adds Samuel Hercule. One of the strengths of their work is how they bring humor into it. Sometimes edgy, it works with the distortion and distance from the original work created by the dramatic writing of the company and the sound effects on stage.
Never gratuitous, it leads the audience to think about the world in which we live.
On the stage of the Théâtre des Abbesses, Snow-White gets a serious makeover…
“I play the evil part in this tale…but that’s just the point, everything you’ve been told is false. And I know someone who is far from white as snow. Nobody has ever asked me for my version of the facts. Well, since you’re here, I’m going to give you the true story». So states the evil stepmother at the beginning of the tale. We are warned: Snow White gets a serious makeover by the La Cordonnerie company who turns the tale into something fresh and new with this delightful stage version playing at the Théâtre des Abbesses in Paris, during the entire holiday season.
Snow White or the Fall of the Berlin Wall” is primarily delightful by the way in which it revisits the myth. Here we are in the late 1980s, in a Parisian suburb high-rise which is part of a social housing complex pretentiously named: “The Kingdom”. Elizabeth, a flight attendant in her forties, is singlehandedly bringing up her step-daughter, Blanche (Snow White), an impossible teenager typical of her age group.
The young girl lost her mother at birth and her father, a man truly made of thin air, disappeared in Russia when she was 6. He was suddenly hired to become a trapeze artist in a famous Moscow Circus. So Blanche stayed on with Elizabeth. At the time of this story she is fifteen, has a Gothic look, a Prince charming called Abdel, a yearning for independence and the Berlin Wall has yet to crumble.
Theater, film and music
In the version of Snow White by Métilde Weyergans and Samuel Hercule, the artistic directors of La Cordonnerie, the house in the middle of the forest is a tent set up by the runaway teenager, Dopey, Grumpy and co are actually garden gnomes, and the poisoned fruit becomes a crate of candied apples sent by her distant father for her 16th Birthday, apples which she devours until she is sick to her stomach…And there is definitely a magic mirror: a real mirror, the bathroom mirror of the high-rise apartment, spouting sentences in its deep voice like an echoing chamber for the delusions of the step-mother and the step-daughter.
THE TALE PLAYS ITS ROLE TO PERFECTION, PUTTING FEARS, DELUSIONS AND FAMILY CONFLICTS AT A DISTANCE
This Snow White is also delightful by the way in which the tale is told. As with all their shows, La Cordonnerie joyfully mingles theater, film and music. The filmed images of Elizabeth and Blanche’s daily life are dubbed live on stage by Samuel Hercule and Métilde Weyergans along with the soundtrack effects. This mix between the home-spun craftsmanship of the theater and the animated image always manages to produce a form of poetry. Here, it is particularly successful, playing on an offbeat realism where the magical and the irrational infiltrate, as in life.
As a result, the tale plays its role to perfection, putting fears, delusions and family conflicts at a distance. This is the lesson so craftily formulated in this show: it’s always possible to make the Berlin Walls that rise up in all families crumble – and besides, aren’t all families, an ongoing reconstruction.