La nuit des taupes
A cardboard burrow, seven giant moles, a disconcerting microcosm. An improbable journey to the centre of the earth… the leaves the spectator in open-eyed wonder.
A burrow. Seven giant moles emerge from cardboard tunnels. They dig, cook, draw, copulate and even form a punk-rock band. A disconcerting microcosm that could only have come from Philippe Quesne’s imagination! Wordless theatre of the ecological and philosophical underground, this is an improbable journey to the centre of the earth… that leaves the spectator in open-eyed wonder.
As in L’effet de Serge (FTA, 2010), the French director and set designer once again tracks down the fantastic where least expected in a series of microfictions that trace the cycles of life. From Plato to Bin Laden, the cave has been a source of myth, imposing its primitive law. The subterranean world swarms with an unknown species that has something to teach us about resisting cynicism; it is a utopian refuge. Will this playful, fascinating world right under our feet become the last bastion against the folly of the world?
Produced by Nanterre-Amandiers – centre dramatique national
Conceived and directed by Philippe Quesne
Set Design Philippe Quesne
Performed by Yvan Clédat + Jean-Charles Dumay + Léo Gobin + Erwan Ha Kyoon Larcher + Sébastien Jacobs + Thomas Suire + Gaëtan Vourc’h
Costume Design Corine Petitpierre + Anne Tesson
Dramaturgical Consultants Léo Gobin + Lancelot Hamelin + Ismael Jude + Smaranda Olcèse
Artistic and Technical Consultants Marc Chevillon + Yvan Clédat + Élodie Dauguet + Abigail Fowler + Thomas Laigle
Coproduction steirischer herbst (Graz) + Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Bruxelles) + Théâtre Vidy – Lausanne + La Filature – Scène nationale (Mulhouse) + Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Francfort-sur-le-Main) + Théâtre national de Bordeaux Aquitaine + Kaaïtheater (Bruxelles) + Centre d’art Le Parvis (Tarbes) + NXTSTP avec le soutien du Programme culture de l’Union européenne
With the support of Fondation d’entreprise Hermès dans le cadre de son programme New Settings (Paris)
With the participation of The research group « Behavioral Objects » – coordination Samuel Bianchini (Paris) + Quai Malaquais – workshop directed by Jordi Colomer (Paris)
Presented by La Presse+ with the support of Institut Français (Paris) + Service de coopération et d’action culturelle du Consulat général de France à Québec in association with Usine C + Carrefour international de théâtre (Québec)
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, on May 6, 2016
Philippe Quesne (Nanterre) Nanterre-Amandiers - centre dramatique national
Initially a visual artist and set designer, Philippe Quesne has a keen interest in spaces, objects, music and actors.
He observes humanity in benevolent fashion and stretches time to slow down where others accelerate, making for a unique form of staging on the French theatre scene. He creates microfictions using simple materials, and dreams of a more organic yet always poetic theatre. He established his well-named company Vivarium in 2003, a collection of actors, visual artists and musicians. His works include the 2004 piece La démangeaison des ailes, D’après nature (2006), La mélancolie des dragons (2008) and L’effet de Serge, where a character brings odds and ends to life and creates an astounding fairy tale world, much to the delight of FTA audiences in 2010.
Philippe Quesne designs and presents performances and other interventions in public spaces and natural sites, with installations or exhibits often included. In 2013 he created Anamorphosis with four Japanese actresses at the Komaba Agora Theatre in Tokyo, and that same year Swamp Club marked the company’s tenth anniversary. In 2014 Next Day, a piece for children aged 8 to 11, was presented at the Festival Theater der Welt in Mannheim, Germany. He first presented La nuit des taupes in 2016 at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels. Augmenting the piece were a series of events entitled Welcome to Caveland!, a laboratory of ideas featuring guest artists and researchers and activities such as workshops for children in a cave, an underground guided tour, concerts and a film club. He has been the artistic director of Nanterre-Amandiers – centre dramatique national since 2014.
In one of your previous shows, Swamp Club, a mole guides humans, helping artists defend themselves. Was it that piece that gave you the idea of creating a world inhabited exclusively by moles?
Artists tend to be haunted by themes, by motives and patterns. Like animals, we dig into a subject. I’m thinking of Claude Régy, who strips his theatre down to bare bones and who returns to certain themes, always simplifying. Four years ago a mole appeared in my theatre, just like in a fairy tale where we follow an animal because we trust it.
That mole generated so much public sympathy that I wanted to see it again. The challenge was how to put animals onstage, how to make language disappear. It’s a new hurdle, plunging into that reverie, concentrating on the power of movement, the relation to materials. We dig, we scratch, we break cardboard… and something very primitive emerges, a return to origins.
Moreover, there are all sorts of mythologies about the underground. We are in a human daydream. The cave brings us back to fables and fairy tales, to childhood fears. We are capable of travelling into space thousands of light years away, but I think our knowledge of what’s under our feet extends no deeper than 30 km. It’s an odd paradox. All the stories of exploring new worlds underground and under the sea are fascinating, from the Minotaur to Jules Verne.
You came to the FTA in 2010 with L’effet de Serge. The character acts out micro performances for his friends in amateur fashion, for the sheer pleasure of creating a story. How are these two shows connected?
I like to place onstage animals and humans we don’t usually notice, which calls for a certain amount of observation. The mole is a small mammal that works all day and that, in this show, is able to play music and paint, engage in artistic activities. This piece is quite different from L’effet de Serge in its construction, because the spectator is plunged directly into the mole’s burrow.
There is no speech or dialogue. The moles grunt and snort or make music, but we are nonetheless in a stage play that explores another way of living. The spectator feels empathy for the moles, as they did for Serge. It was easy to laugh at that man and the little shows he performed on Sunday afternoons, but at the same time he enjoyed a lot of freedom, driven as he was by the simple joy of creating.
We know that in order to survive we must eat, work, integrate well into society. But room for ideas and utopian dreams is also important. That can happen when you’re an engaged political activist defending important values, and can also occur when you’re a poet or artist.
There are moments where the moles dispense with the underground tunnels and deliberately step out of the stage set. It is quite clear that the rocks they are carrying are fake. Are you reminding the spectator that we are in a theatre, in a theatrical world?
Many of the images are very dreamlike, but I thought it was important to show how they are constructed, to reveal the backstage aspects of a play. I love how movies and theatre take us into dreams and dream worlds, but I also like to peek behind the scenes. It’s a childlike curiosity, a spontaneous fascination.
However, not everything we see in the show is upbeat and cheerful. The mole evokes an underground landscape, a world of silence. It is an animal that moves from the sub-surface to above ground. What happens underground is more disturbing; there’s a teeming world beneath our feet. The spectator becomes interested in another species. I believe that in this mammalian theatre we learn to look at strangers. We have an opportunity to observe another people, to learn about difference.
We have much to learn about how rocks are formed, how trees grow. I do not think that in order to save this planet we have to opt for profit and economic development at all costs. We insist on following humans we should not be following, but animals could serve as guides. We should have greater faith in them, and also in trees, in nature. Why not? Summit meetings of political leaders settle nothing, but if I am a wolf, a rabbit or a mole, other paths will appear.
« La nuit des taupes est un drôle d’Osni (objet sous-terrain non identifié), qui mêle humour, poésie et délire plastique, subjugue les enfants et bluffe les parents. Une fête punk pour les yeux et les oreilles ! »
Philippe Chevilley, Les Échos, 2016-11-08
« Une expérience aussi euphorisante que perturbante »
Florent Mirandole, Unfauteuilpourlorchestre.com, 2016-11-08
« Un grand tableau vivant qui se débarrasse de l’humain pour mieux observer l’humanité. »
Christophe Candoni, IO Gazette, 2016-05-11