LA MALADIE DE LA MORT E I F
August 16 to 18 8.00 pm August 18 and 19 3.00 pm
** Two stars
This production by Theatre des Bouffes de Nord is a free adaptation of a story by Marguerite Duras. Director Katie Mitchell has expanded the context of the woman character, played by Laetitia Dosch. In the story we knew nothing about the outer life of this character, but Mitchell has given her a hinterland to the effect of being a sex worker and being a single mother to an early teens daughter. The male character, played by Nick Fletcher, has no background; we merely see him and his behaviour in his apartment.
The action of this performance is being filmed as it takes place. (not the first time this procedure has been used in this Festival). A creative team is occupied onstage filming all that happens inside the flat and in the corridor beside. On a screen above we see the action in the form of a black and white film. This allows for some external shots of landscape and of the woman and daughter in other locations.
The situation is that the man is buying the woman’s time, and he wants her to be with him each evening, and fully available, including sexually. He wants to see if he can love a woman. Or feel love at all. Duras is said to have believed that genuine love between a man and a woman was not possible.
The first couple of days he mostly looks at her. He has sex with her in time. He wants specific acts, and she bargains for more money. In time she tells him that he has la Maladie de la Mort, that he has the sickness of death. This makes him even more despairing, but he tells here in answer to her questions that he has never felt any feeling or love for a woman. He claims not to be able to see her at points.
The person beside me had not read the programme, and it occurred to me that in such a case the viewer may well think that the girl in not the daughter of the woman but her younger self – until the final minutes, anyway.
The connection between the two – it could not be called a relationship – continues until it ends. They debate but there is little development. If the man answers all of the woman’s questions truthfully it is difficult not to think that the part of his brain dealing with emotions is damaged, so perhaps he is a suitable case for treatment. The black and white format seems dated, but we see the man watching hard porn on a screen, one form of updating, and maybe a partial reason for his emotional deadness.
The woman has a motive, and is keen to gain advantage for herself and her daughter. She possibly enlightens the man somewhat. He seems totally devoid of imagination, but to have obtained a large amount of money somehow.
The show seemed a really long hour, providing very little illumination. We did not need this to know of the power of patriarchy, or of the financial basis of many relationships. When the story was first published in the mid twentieth century it was probably ground breaking and controversial. It is difficult to feel that it has anything fresh to say to us now.