Absolute Turkey

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Автор:Georges Feydeau
Издателство:Longdunn Press Ltd
ISBN:9780948230745 Тегло (гр.): Формат: 125 / 195 Състояние: Мн. добро
Absolute Turkey / Georges Feydeau

Absolute Turkey / Trans. Nicki Frei, Peter Hall
Paperback Absolute Classics English

The British have long been wary of Georges Feydeau, the uncompromising master of French farce. He lived from 1885 until 1921 and wrote a succession of boulevard plays which in their wild, comic enery verge on the surreal.

His subject is sexual attraction - or, to put it more plainly, lust, and the insanities it produces. This seemed a little improper to British audiences of the early part of this century used, as they were, to the amiable farces of Pinero or the innocent Alice-in-Wonderland of Ben Travers. We have grown more broad-minded since, and our unease with Feyeau has diminished as we have learnt to appreciate his ruthlessness.

Feydeau observed, "When two of my characters should under no circumstances encounter one another I throw them together as quickly as possible". He recorded the behaviour of human beings in a clinical and very un-British way. His characters are monstrous, and if we excuse them with understatement or sweeten then with devious Anglo-Saxon charm, the accuracy of the observation is blunted and a great deal of the comedy disappears. His plays are crammed with frantic self-obsessed people who pursue their desires with no regard for each other's feelings and litde respect for integrity, honesty or decency. It is all just like real life, Feydeau would doubtless have said. Certainly without laughter, it could be a harsh experience.

Like many comics, Feydeau seems to have been a serious man. He makes us laugh, but he did not amuse himself: "I never laugh in a theatre. I seldom laugh in my private life," he said.

His plays were written as commercial entertainments, but they non-theless demonstrate a keen moral sense, always ready to judge the awfulness of human behavious. Perhaps that is why they still merit attention: it is not enough for comedy to be simply funny. His plays are full of well-deserved punishments as the characters get their come-uppance for their various misdemeanours. The obsessive seducer finds that his over-ambitious appetite has made him incapable of making love. The compulsive flirt is summararily rejected. The hypocrisy of a very self-important age is exposed as Feydeau strips men and women to their essential appetites. Every character is an animal alone in the bourgeois jungle, isolated by selfishness and turning predator in order to survive. It is an unblinking and very French view of human behaviour.
Feydeau satisfies the somewhat reprehensible pleasure we take in watching others suffer. His talent is aggressive and unrelenting. We do not sympathise with his characters; we watch them dispassionately as they thrash around in extremis. Marcel Achard notes that "we are occasionally given some respite by the heroes of Shakespeare and Racine, when they melodiously bewail their fate in beautiful poetry. But Feydeau's heroes haven't got time to complain ..."

In the closed and secret rooms of Feydeau's farces, with the audiences as the hidden onlookers, the characters do great hurt to each other. The door can be locked or doubled locked, and bolts can always be shot. The door is indeed the dramatic tool of these farces; it enables characters to encounter each other; it protects and hides them when it is shut and reveals them when it is unexpectedly opened. We never know who is coming in next.

Feydeau deals not in understatement but overstatement. His plays are long on the page - a riot of words that qualify and justify the nightmares his characters are in, but they play fast as the words are used to hold desperation at bay and hide insecurities. Every person is sooner or later in a terrible crisis, and the only way out is a fever of words. There is not time to think; only to speak. No character in Feydeau speaks slowly: the pressure on him makes it impossible.

British actors know just how frantic they have to be thanks to the example of the great French actor and director, Jacques Charon. He showed us how to act Feydeau at Olivier's National Theatre in the 60's with his production of "A Flea in Her Ear". And Feydeau worked fully in English for the first time. Audiences laughed until it hurt, but then realised what they had been contemplating; unmentionable behaviour which they were quite capable of committing themselves.

The plots of Feydeau's plays are great symphonic structures of intrigues, betrayals, mistakes and misunderstandings. The coincidences are sometimes described as mechanical but this is unfair. "Le Dindon" (translated as AN ABSOLUTE TURKEY) is the most elegantly complex of his plays. By the end of each act, every character is spinning dizzily in a surrealistic climax of complications - caught in a nightmare played at double speed. They are uncomfortably truthful, filled with the hideous parallels of real life - or rather those disquieting moments when life becomes so pressurised that it seems like a bad dream.

His language is demented too: each character dare not stop talking as he runs away from his pursuers. His dialogue is in no sense good French: the pressure put on the words by the situations does not allow it. Claude Berton described the style brilliantly: "It is chopped up, chaotic, slangy, elliptical, stuffed with a jumble of mad preposterous ideas, like the coat of a conjurer whose sleeves are full of fish, flowers, omelettes, bars of soap and cannon balls". It is truly the language of people at the end of their tether. It should also remind us that Feydeau and Strindberg - both possessed men -were contemporaries.

Feydeau is not easy to translate. Although he writes colloquial French, the rhythm is often almost as important as the meaning.

So in translation the right rhythm produces the laugh, but the misplaced word kills it. Nicki Frei and I had much sweat and joy in trying to find English equivalents; and we were greatly helped by the taste and inventiveness of our cast as they rehearsed. The text is therefore for acting rather than reading. It is also for acting fast (and much faster than any actor will initially think). There are also a large number of small cuts made from the experience of playing to audiences in London in 1994.

Great farce is always nurtured by a society constrained by taboo. Feydeau's bourgeois pretended to be respectable but underneath were extraordinarly licentious. Perhaps our time is too unbuttoned to make farce easy; but we can still enjoy the lessons of the past. Farce is a very serious business; the hypocrisy of human behaviour is always its subject and we learn as much by laughing as by crying.

Peter Hall

January 1994

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