“Le Horla”: Man is a puppet for Man

Long-time traveling companion of Ceiling Angelsrevealed as a talented performer in their show The necessary imbalance of things (our review), Jonas Coutancier signs with The Horla his first show, under the watchful eye of Camille Trouvou and Brice Berthoud directing. A modern adaptation of Maupassant’s short storywhich takes full effect from the different techniques that the artist masters (acting, puppetry, mask, magic) to provoke a disruption of reality on stage, somewhere between madness and science fiction.

It’s a show that begins with its end: it opens with the sounds of a fire which devours the sound space, the stage hidden behind a partially openwork curtain which suggests the violent glow flames. It is therefore a loop-like dramaturgy, an anticipation of the outcome that makes a strong impression. Then the curtain falls, and the character, young, smiling, relaxed, appears on stage, in the euphoria of a move from which he seems to derive the greatest satisfaction. This bliss will gradually give way to nightmare.

Of madness and its topicality

Almost everyone has at least some memories of Maupassant’s short story: it’s a classic years of college which allows, like The skin of sorrow of Balzac, to take the literature from the 19th through the fantastic. Written by an author who was himself plagued by the crises of a illness from which he was to eventually diethe literary work, in the form of a diary, describes the struggle of a man against a invisible enemy, intangible, a psychic “vampire” who “haunts” him. Its subtlety is that theambiguity is never lifted: true manifestation of a “new being” or subjective crossing of a spirit that sinks into the psychosisMaupassant does not decide.

Jonas Coutancier has modernized history, if he kept the fundamentals. This “more perfect being”, which is going to “do with man what we have done with horse and ox”, this entity which alienates and which dominates the protagonist of the story, he places him in theimagination of our time. In this version of horlait’s here technologyvirtual reality, transhumanism which are indicated as the creatures that attack us and steal our ability to think and feel for ourselves. In a homeopathic dose, Jonas Coutancier superimposes his text on that of Maupassant: “We invented new things to dominate us… the AI… the metaverse…” blows his character. The human kind of generated the creature that devours its creatorunless it is, more prosaically, a tool fashioned by some to dominate others.

Another dimension superimposed on the story, but almost subliminalwe also feel a questioning about the isolation measures that have accompanied the coronavirus epidemic. By a few words heard on the radio, by a few remarks from the character, we are led to reinterpret madness and the confinement of the latter in the light of the collective experience traversed. Haven’t we, finally, like the character, poured into a paranoid psychosis ? What has this isolation done to those of us who have lived deprived of contact with our fellow human beings, face-to-face with their mirror and their connected speaker?

All shades of je(u)

Jonas Coutancier works here at disturb reality and conventional borders. He takes care ofbreak out his character by superimposing several personas on his actor’s body. There is obviously the protagonist of Maupassant’s short story, who speaks to the first person, and which for this reason is easily confused with the actor himself. In addition there are fantastic creatures that the artist brings to life on stage, which pose as objects to the undecided reality of monstrous doubles of the protagonist. And, to definitively upset the certainties of the public, there is finally an “I” which leaves the stage to enter the space of the room, an “I” which speaks to the public of the pleasure of the actor to find himself in stage, an “I” that could be Jonas Coutancier himselfan “I” subservient to the tyranny of his character who manages to pull him on stage against his will, an “I” finally contaminated by madnessbutted against the doors of the theater who no longer want to let him escape…

Mostly, it’s on the actor play that rests the show. The character-narrator and the character-actor are interpreted without any other artifice than that of theatrical art. From this point of view, the actor carries with a lot of accuracy and of natural two young men of their time, likeable, with just enough fragility to make them moving. But it’s when he plays madness that he’s most impressive. It has been written in the past that Jonas Coutancier was a very physical actorand he amply confirms it here in leaping from one corner of the room to another, going perch on the edge of the void in a precarious balance that instills a hint of danger in the game, as a circus would do. He knows how to find animality and an expressiveness in the body just waiting to spring up, like a spring that has been compressed for too long, unwinds, and he finds very beautiful images, like those twisted arms that spring from behind a panel, or a christ pose on the edge of a precipice, which he proposed in the hall of the Théâtre des Deux Rives in Rouen. And we also discover here a face mobility quite extraordinary: apart from even using the mask accessory, he manages to transform your face by the mere expression of his face, and goes from carefree young man to sick and worrying middle-aged man in a flash.

The fragmentation of markers is also based on the use of several other live performance techniques, which the artist convenes and mixes with a certain happiness. He thus uses the puppet and a few magic effects to disturb reality, to make possible the impossible and the monstrous human. Using masks and of prostheses, he metamorphoses the protagonist by gradually deforming his body and his features, in an increasingly rapid and disturbing back and forth between normality and abnormality. From the moment he endows his character with extra hands, thespace of possibilities widens in the direction ofhorror, and the house itself seems to come alive. This composite artistic vocabulary sometimes gives the feeling of a somewhat dizzying, not to say exaggerated, profusion, but overall each effect is used sparingly enough not to saturate the viewer’s attention span too much.

Devoured by the glow pale from the metaverse

The Horlain this staging, is a picture show maybe even more than an acting show. We have already mentioned the very strong images of creatures embodied by Jonas Coutancier. The body and the very face of the actor are the place of transformations which give rise to visually strong scenes: twisted and tortured posturesgrimaces of horror (reminiscent of the famous painting The Desperate de Courbet), violent spasms on a floor strewn with the shards of a broken bottle… Obviously, the humanoid monsters born from the addition of prostheses make a very strong impression. The last appearance of the show is too amazing to spoil the surprise, but we can mention a monkey-like monster, with a strangely frozen mask, which slowly emerges from the shadows before moving with great leaps, all the more disturbing that he is close to human. Some scenes from shadow theater bring softer and more poetic images, even if not always more reassuring.

This staging also makesspace a central issue of the room : like a metaphor of the mental space of the character which retracts inexorably under the effect of the madness, and does not exist any more but around the core on which is fixed its unhealthy obsessionthe game space on the board shrinks gradually. Impossible for the characters to escape, since even the character-actor can no longer flee the room, and is inexorably brought back to the stage. The latter is covered with hidden devices which make it possible to discover as and when slivers of pale blue light, which start at the edge of the board and gradually reach the center. This blue light is the one that decorates the connected speaker – voice assistant at the start of the show: it is therefore technology metaphor, along with madness. The space that this light devours is not only that of the house, but also the reality of the character whose monstrous manifestations will adorn themselves with the same luminescent ribbons.

This contraction of the game space ultimately refocuses everything on the structure that occupies the center of the stage in the distance, like a platform under which there would be an almost closed volume, like a kind of box. This is where the character ends his race, at the end of his delirium. But at the same time the platform is the place occupied throughout the show by the second performer, Solène Comsa, musician which alternates between cello electric and the electronic manipulation sound. It is therefore both on the one hand in a distinct space, overlookingfrom which one could even imagine that she pulls the strings of what happens so much her musical atmospheres stick to the action, and on the other hand, all the same, she too in the house, stakeholder of a journey that will end in flames. His compositions to varied soundswhich can go towards very “machine” sounds, are very suitable to accompany this horla of a new kind.

Profuse and successful staging, admirable quality of interpretation, sensitive and clever dusting off of an underrated classic, this horla fully deserves to be seen!

Played for the first time at the CDN in Rouen where we attended the premiere, the play will be on November 17 & 18, 2022 at the Théâtre de Laval – CNMa.

GENERIC

A show by and with Jonas Coutancier

Directed by: Camille Trouvou & Brice Berthoud

Musical creation and interpretation: Solène Comsa

Dramaturgy: Camille Found

Scenography: Brice Berthoud and Jonas Coutancier

Outer ear and sound texture: Arnaud Coutancier

Construction of puppets and body prostheses: Amélie Madeline

Costume design: Séverine Thiébault

Light creation: distribution in progress

Creation of projected images: Marie Girardin

Choreographic gaze: Kaori Ito

Visual: (c) Arnaud Berthereau

“Le Horla”: Man is a puppet for Man – Toutaculture