Troubleyn | Jan Fabre (Belgium)
90 Minutes – In English – Recommended for adult audiences.
Eleos & Fobos. Fear and compassion. The two main emotions which Greek tragedy attempts to convey. By confronting its audience with tragic heroes subjected to abominable suffering, the tragedy touches the innermost part of the viewer’s psyche, binding his fate to that of the hero and thereby purifying him of the poisons of the body.
In his latest production, Jan Fabre once again goes in search of this tragic dimension. The adventures of Prometheus, as chronicled by the oldest tragic poet Aeschylus, represent the underlying current which flows through this work. Prometheus was a mythological rebel without a cause. He revolted against Zeus, the ruler of the gods, stole fire from heaven and gave it to the inhabitants of earth. The fire-bringer, Prometheus is, for Fabre, a standard bearer of proud independence. He turns his back on Olympic law and goes against the flow, acting on the basis of his own convictions. As a confederate of fire, he also has every weapon at his disposal with which to transform matter. At the same time an artist and an alchemist, he is a kind of lighthouse for mankind. With utter disregard for his own life, he shows man his true potential. In an effort to quash this proud outburst of violence, Zeus has Prometheus shackled to Mt. Caucasus. Left to the elements and an eagle who returns every day to pick a piece from his liver, he suffers a gruesome punishment. His liver, that organ of bile, of anger and fury, subsequently becomes a kind of open wound. Every night, the wound grows shut and every day it is ripped open anew. In a never-ending Sisyphus-like repetition. Prometheus cries with pain and anger. The fire-bringer is himself on fire, as it were. And his body projected into a state of ecstasy. His howling and roaring can be heard far into the Caucasus.
Fabre’s Prometheus immerses you in the multifarious temporal layers of this well-known myth. But before the show really begins, we bid farewell to one layer of time; the most famous explanatory system, the most criticised and rejected narrative in Western civilisation: psychology. From Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung with every second and third rung figure in between, psychology is cursed and renounced. You cannot understand or explain everything with psychology, and certainly not the game played here by the gods of Olympus. The tragic dimension cannot be reduced to a psychological scheme; you cannot explain the cry of the tragic hero from an armchair. His pain causes a deafening clamour, a piercing noise which reverberates in the broken bones and scars that reveal where civilisation is but sewn together. Where is our tragic hero now? Fabre wonders out loud in an endless recital. Where is he? Our time needs him. Throughout the prelude, the two actors whisper, beg and cry in every key to the hero: “We need heroes now!”
Until the curtain is raised and the Prometheus landscape unfolds before us: at the end, projected on the horizon, the bright, blinding light of the sun; in front the hero Prometheus, the sacrificial lamb of civilisation, seemingly caught in a web, quartered and strung up by thick ropes like a lacerated Christ.
In that landscape, a sculptor is at work with words. Jeroen Olieslagers has recomposed Aeschylus’ myth: in eight monologues, he gives voice to the inhabitants of Mt. Olympus who give breath and rhythm to the story of the hero Prometheus in near Biblical verse. The language comes across as heavy and dense, almost feverish at times like flames reaching ever-higher skyward. It is the language of the gods, which reverberates like thunder through the mythical universe. One by one, the Olympians offer their vision on the tale of the fire-bringer: Hephaestus who chained the arrogant hero to Mt. Caucasus; Athena, daughter of Zeus and confederate of the fire god; Epimetheus, the dumb brother who could not resist Zeus’ treacherous gift in the form of Pandora and her cursed box; Io who, driven to madness by a stinging horsefly, comes to complain to the other punished and chained god; and Oceanus, Dionysus, Pandora, Hermes and finally Prometheus, the Titan son himself who has finally broken the long silence with his mighty curse of the divine ruler Zeus: “this is a scream right from the gut; I resist.”
Finally he arrives, the hero, from his elevated position on Mt. Caucasus, challenging Zeus, not afraid of what torture may result, resisting the pain, proudly staring humiliation in the eye. But the blazing fire, stolen from heaven, has since made him blind to the reality unfolding before him. His fire, that ever-cherished gift to humanity, has been consumed, extinguished and spent by mankind. The Promethean fire, with all its emancipatory potential, has been traded in by mankind for the codex of new religions with a deep-seated intolerance and absolute prohibition of all that is unrestrained and fiery. Religion, states Fabre in reference to Marx, is not an opiate but a sedative for the people. It placates, quenches, tempers; it makes people obedient and well behaved. Religion is a kind of internalised dictatorship of narrow-minded morals with the thermostat set to frozen temperatures. Religion is cold; our society with all its rules and laws has banished the fire and with it imagination. Fabre shows us, on stage, a closed community under the spell of fire; fire which attracts us while nevertheless harbouring a latent danger. Via costumes reminiscent of several kinds of religion, Fabre exposes an ambivalent relationship to fire: even at the core of the tale of passion, passion is tempered and suppressed. Someone is always standing at the ready to snuff out every possible spark, every potential flaring of the fire. Before every fireplace, a bucket of sand stands guard, and any smouldering remains are hacked apart with axes.
Unlike the Orgy of Tolerance the structure of this production does not rest on the sketch but the flow. The flow of the mighty cursing and profanation the Olympic gods continuously sling at each other; the flow of images which Fabre has ripple and lash over the stage like waves. For throughout, fires are continuously extinguished but also continuously relit. Individuals, in other words, continue their feverish search for moments of passion, that which sets their body, their soul, on fire. Bodies subsequently scrape over each other until sparks fly from them; men and women turn themselves into pyres of passion. In the blink of an eye, a penis becomes a torch, a vagina an ignition mechanism of sulphur and phosphorus. The genitalia become a veritable striking surface for anything flammable. However, the greater the fire, the more invasive the extinguishing mechanisms: when sand and axe are not enough, hefty tanks are brought before the blaze, transforming before our eyes into a curtain of smoke, CO2 and flying sand.
The production therefore paints the Promethean landscape between Olympus, Mt. Caucasus and the valley where the people live. Like an opera, text and image slide over one another, like the ebb and flow of a surging sea. Ropes represent the binding thread between the many images and surrealistic winks: chains for all those who violate the law of the Great Leader; objects of lust for those who would give themselves pleasure; a cocoon for those awaiting metamorphosis.
This new piece confronts us with the battlefield of our civilisation. At its basis: Prometheus’ fire. But what did mankind do with the magical power of fire? What alchemy did it inspire? And to what end has the fear of fire delivered us?
Luk Van den Dries (University of Antwerp) – from the Troubleyn Website
concept, direction, scenography Jan Fabre
text I am the all-giver Jeroen Olyslaegers (based on Aeschylos’ Prometheus Bound) & We need heroes now Jan Fabre
music Dag Taeldeman
assistance, dramaturgy Miet Martens
performers Katarina Bistrović-Darvaš, Annabelle Chambon, Cédric Charron, Vittoria Deferrari, Lawrence Goldhuber, Ivana Jozić, Katarzyna Makuch, Gilles Polet, Kasper Vandenberghe, Kurt Vandendriessche
light Jan Dekeyser
costumes Andrea Kränzlin
technical coordination Kris van Aert
sound Tom Buys
technician Bern Van Deun
production & tour manager Tomas Wendelen
english coach Tom Hannes
voice coach Lynette Wright (head of voice and speech Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
production Troubleyn/Jan Fabre (Antwerp, Belgium).
With the support of the Flemish Government.
co-production Peak Performances @ Montclair State University (Montclair, USA), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris, France), Malta Festival (Poznan, Poland), Tanzhaus NRW (Düsseldorf, Germany), Zagreb Youth Theatre (Zagreb, Croatia), Exodos Ljubljana (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Internship Edith Cassiers (dramaturgy), Katarzyna Mielczarek (costumes), Maja Zupancic (costumes)
Apostolia Papadamaki (with the support of the Costopoulos Foundation)