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