Tell us about the genesis of this project and the challenges involved in adapting the lengthy novel by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr for the theatre.

Aristide Tarnagda: Sarr’s writing is imbued with complexity and that’s what I really like about it. It captures the men and women of his continent with its beauty and precision. It’s at once raw and incisive, profound and rooted in African and global issues. In that sense, it restores our humanity to us by repositioning within a universal context.

In 2020, I adapted the author’s first novel, Terre ceinte, for the theatre. What I initially wanted to propose to the FTA was a journey through his work via the female characters in his novels, who I find very touching. But we finally decided to start from a text rooted in current events.


In an interview with France Culture, griots and filmmakers Dani and Sotigui Kouyaté said that “Africa no longer knows how to listen to its elders.” What do you think of this statement and how is this topic relevant to La plus secrète mémoire des hommes?

A.T.: First of all, the novel is about memory. Mohamed Mbougar Sarr evokes the tragic fate of Yambo Ouologuem [who in 1968 became the first African writer to receive the Prix Renaudot, for Le Devoir de violence, before being accused of plagiarism], who received very little fanfare and whose work was soon forgotten. Mbougar Sarr deserves full credit for reviving this story to make it part of the cultural heritage of not just Africa but all humanity. I think that La plus secrète mémoire des hommes interrogates the transmission of knowledge within a contemporary African society where information overload and obsolescence have become part of daily life.

As for what the novel has to do with memory itself and with Kouyaté’s quote, I think that old people have lost an important role within our societies. They were guides, vehicles of knowledge. In this sense, art plays an important role in challenging the status quo and giving birth to new visions. We shouldn’t forget as well that there’s still a huge rural community here, a community of peasants—and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. The knowledge of these people and their elders is still valuable.


Your remark about rural communities calls to mind Pier Paolo Pasolini and his comment that “Theatre should become what theatre is not.” What does this quip mean to you?  

Odile Sankara: Pasolini is someone whose work I have performed and who influenced me. He was very grounded in his own culture and in popular tradition. Throughout his work—both literary and cinematic—he considered the fragile destinies of the disenfranchised. And not just in Italy: he was also interested in issues concerning Africa!

So, in my opinion, the theatre must above all be in tune with its society and time. It should try to convey meaning and beauty. Through the act of creation, it should provide us with new life and hope while also questioning the world. What it should not do is fall into the trap of being a version of contemporary geopolitical discourse… We should rid ourselves completely of those political issues. The theatre should be a custodian of collective memory and history.

A.T.: Popular theatre—not in the sense of “lowbrow”— should belong to the people. It’s a place of fellowship, of communion, where we engage with the world through its language, myths, stories, tales. It’s a place of nurturing, and a sounding board. That’s what we try to create at Les Récréâtrales.

Going back to Pasolini, the theatre should, in my opinion, be a place where people speak loudly but also where they whisper. People should mix with others, not stand apart. To borrow the words of Édouard Glissant, the theatre is a place for the “whole-world.”


Mohamed Mbougar Sarr evokes the notion of temps assassin (“fatal time),” which destroys the illusion that our wounds are unique to us. He adds that literature is born from this impasse. What do you think about this?

O.S.: I really like the expression “fatal time,” because it’s time that defines us through what we bring with us, through the contingencies and vicissitudes that weaken us. But while it weakens us, time also allows us to become aware of our fate and bear it.

As we say in African culture, time brings wisdom. One might also think of the phrase “the ravages of time”: time wears us down, but it makes us grow at the same time. You can say all the noble words you want today, but what’s important is not right now but how long you live up to them! When difficulties occur, when the wind changes and you become hesitant, then you’ll see whether you have upheld your virtues and ideals with strength and beauty.


Since the fall of Blaise Compaoré in 2014, there seems to be a theatre revival in Burkina Faso. Odile, you’ve said that the theatre has even become “the country’s leading political forum.” What kind of risk is involved in this political engagement?

O.S.: Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again! For me, it’s the only forum that still depends on a relationship based on truth. You can’t cheat the audience. You’re exposed, you’re part of a truthful relationship that engages our different perspectives. It’s in that sense that I claim the theatre is the leading political forum. After the fall of Compaoré in Burkina Faso, various sectors had been weakened because of his long reign and mismanagement, but the theatre was still standing in spite of it all. It was able to bring life, beauty, light, and dreams.

That said, when it comes to the risk involved, I believe that the vocation of the artist is in fact to take risks—and that’s what we’re committed to. If we don’t take risks, things won’t happen naturally. It’s commitment that makes things happen. I think that the country, our country, will benefit from listening to its artists—listening to us and engaging with us!


back to the show