The Man who laughs

Programming / Play, Circus & Puppets

Amidst all the turmoil of the world, I stupidly continue on my little road. Altair is my morning star.

Thus, I will talk to you about show, theatre, and today about the absolutely strange and absolutely successful association of play, circus and puppets on a human scale.

It is about the adaptation, totally unbelievable, of The Man Who Laughs by the company Theatre La Licorne.

Have you read this novel?
It’s atrocious.
A real horror, I mean literally.

It is a novel by Victor Hugo – a French glory, therefore.
As I am too – French, not a glory – I can say what I think of our national hero.
Victor Hugo was almost a genius.
Some of his pages can be read 100,000 times – you can carve them in marble and send them into space: the aliens will be stunned with admiration.

But the other pages… he should have removed them without mercy. They’re rubbish to cry over. And it weeps. And that’s a ton of feelings that don’t ring true. And it’s gargling with stylistic devices, do you want one? I’ll give you 10 for the price of one, a gift from the chef.
Yes, but Victor Hugo loved himself very much – so he didn’t correct himself.
It’s a terrible pity.
It doesn’t really make you want to read it in full.

But as a result, adaptations of his novels are worth looking at, because directors are obliged to cut into the “great text”: only the best remains.

And there, I beg your pardon, but it “sends super high quality”.

For the story – it’s Victor Hugo, you will be horrified by the darkness of the souls of the rich (in Victor Hugo, the rich are bad, the poor are good – it’s a bit Manichean, but it’s easy to understand).

As Victor Hugo is French – that he comes after Napoleon Bonaparte – and that he is not a tepid one – he does not like the enemies of France: first of all, therefore, the traitors, the felons, the perfidious, the ungrateful: the English.

So The Man who Laughs is set in the kingdom of England, a kingdom of rotten, putrid and infamous nobility (no, I don’t think that, I don’t know anything about English nobility – on the other hand, it amuses me enough to read it). This demonic nobility will be the incarnation of evil in the novel.
Indeed, Hugo tells – with all the details you want – how the English nobility had the little gypsy children kidnapped from the shores of Spain and Portugal, brought to the kingdom and distorted them for the pleasure of laughing at them.
The hero of the story will therefore be one of these children, who had the face of an angel – a face that was destroyed, because a great man of the Kingdom wanted a jester with an eternal smile: the child was butchered, his cheeks cut off to create an atrocious and eternal smile.
His name was Gwynplaine.

With this, you will have, I think, enough to understand the excerpt from the extraordinary adaptation that the company has made :

Their work on the puppets “to be put on by the actor”, on the masks, on the make-up, and even on the soundtrack is just mind-boggling by dint of being so good –

I have already told you about this company, they are the ones who carried out the work of adaptation for The Threads of the Heart.

I confess that I am hoping to see their adaptation of The Man who Laughs, which we should receive in January 2021. Well – no prognosis, this game is beyond me.

I’ve seen lots and lots of excerpts – with a rather stupid problem to solve: the company thinks that children can see this as early as 12 years old.
And I confess that I… before the age of 14 or 15, I don’t think it’s very relevant – because they kept Hugo’s text, because there’s only the worst of it left – the best of it, but the one that relies most strongly on the inhumanity, the cruelty, the terrible laughter of the executioners – and to be confronted with that, it also means to have thought that one could be a bad person oneself.

The other pitfall that this show poses to our theatre also comes from the company’s request to open it up to young children: as a result, all the others, the real audience for this work, did not come: they thought it was a pointless adaptation, and that we would find nothing from the heart of the text.
It’s a mistake – a mistake that I’m trying to correct with all my little words – but a mistake that was so obvious.
As a show programmer, it’s about not forgetting the real target.
Here, by dint of wasting days and days and days, when the company talked about offering the shows to children so young, it was as if we were offered to play the lottery to win for sure: we played, ah yes.
And we lost – for now.

Especially since puppets are an expression that already suffers from a big apriori: it’s for kids, it’s cute – nothing serious with that.

Now, if you’ve taken a look at what the company does with its puppets, it’s not at all – but then not for a second – “children’s” puppets.

So we have to remember to be careful and serious (yes, anyway) when we work on finding an audience, show by show. To be too wide here, it was almost fatal for us – I’ve been working hard for a month now to get back on track and get the real audience back – & well, if everything is cancelled, too bad. It will not.

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Featured Image & all pictures : from The Man who Laughs, adapted by Theatre La Licorne

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