Brume de dieu

8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16/05 – 20:30
FR (no translation)
1h 20min
Lecture of the NL text on 9 & 13/05 – 19:45

At almost 90 years old, Claude Régy has lost none of his radicalism. This sculptor of darkness is increasingly tending towards an aesthetic abstraction that pushes the audience to its limits. First with Régy, there is the text, often a non-theatrical one, the word, stretched out and contorted, the sound, “sensual material that the actor can put in his mouth like a pebble”. A split in the language that makes us penetrate the wall of what is being said. For Brume de dieu, this staggeringly emotional and very moving monologue, Régy has turned to Tarjei Vesaas. In The Birds, his 1957 novel, the Norwegian author tells the story of Mattis, a young and apparently simple-minded peasant who can talk to birds, an ambiguous creature whose sheer naivety opens up knowledge of the world beyond reason. Régy has only used one chapter from the book in which the hero crosses a lake in a small boat that is taking in water. A tipping point, between shadow and light, life and death, where another dimension of the person comes to the surface.

“Going to see a Claude Régy production means cutting yourself off : from the outside world, the march of time, expectations of what normally happens on a stage. This veteran director, now 87, doesn’t do easy. His work is austere, distilled, abstract, philosophical, transcendental – and completely absorbing.”
Financial Times (

« On en oublie, évidemment : cela fait soixante ans que Régy signe des mises en scène. L’acuité ne diminue pas. Au contraire, chaque nouveau spectacle semble pousser plus loin l’exploration de la
nuit. »

René Solis, Libération

Excerpt of Les Oiseaux by Tarjei Vesaas, translated to French by Régis Boyer

Claude Régy

Alexandre Barry

Set design
Sallahdyn Khatir

Rémi Godfroy

Philippe Cachia

Laurent Cazanave

Technical direction
Sallahdyn Khatir

Stage managers
Rémi Godfroy (lights), Régis Sagot (sounds)

Administration & production
Bertrand Krill

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Les Tanneurs

Les Ateliers Contemporains (Paris)

Théâtre National de Bretagne – Rennes, Festival d’Automne à Paris

Supported by
le CENTQUATRE (Paris), Institut français, L’Ambassade de France en Belgique

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Claude Régy interview

Brume de dieu is taken from the novel The Birds by the Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas. You’ve stage several works by Jon Fosse who’s also Norwegian. Is there a particular tone or light to Nordic literature that appeals to you?

Yes, over time I’ve analysed what it is about this literature that attracts me so much. It’s interesting to read the mythology in these countries: you discover a completely irrational world where all the commonly accepted boundaries become extremely blurred. For someone born in France, this literature offers an opportunity to leave behind the confinement of rationalism and encounter different territories; territories which in the name of reason are not explored – and are even condemned. In Norway, the dividing line between day and night is turned completely on its head – there are half-lights which we don’t know; for example, this idea of mist, where things become unclear. I became increasingly interested in this light born out of darkness, that particular meaning conveyed by enigma alone. I’ve worked a lot in recent years with “half-dark” lighting, where features become hard to read, where instability is created which seems to me to be an opening towards greater imagination. When you work trying not to separate opposites but trying to make them live together, when you don’t put a clear boundary between things... I think you can tackle a new and unknown territory. What’s produced has its source in the two elements that make it happen – but these elements remain joined together, each developing the other, and the possible varieties are endless. It’s an area of work I find particularly interesting and it can only be done with more classical writing.

In The Birds, it’s the dividing line between madness and reason in particular which becomes intangible... Here too it’s about a “place” continually questioned in your work.

Yes, it’s also pretty much the subject of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis which I staged in 2002. In The Birds, this dimension is brilliantly explored through the character of Mattis. Mattis is considered to be a half-wit but he compensates for this “lack of intelligence” with an almost animal instinct; he maintains relationships with the flight of birds, their trace in the sky... He also starts analysing the marks made by bird feet in the mud, seeing a language in it. As a result he starts drawing marks in the mud himself, thinking that the birds will be able to understand it. Through Mattis we see the advent of a completely impossible – and completely unexplored – world. If you abandon the dividing line between “normal” people and those designated as mentally ill or half-wits and you concern yourself only with what is really unfolding there – without glorifying the illness – there is clearly a huge amount in it to discover, particularly about the nature of human beings. Even in this world of ours where progress is plainly victorious, knowledge of the secrets of human beings – of what is most secret in us – has not ultimately progressed that much. There’s never been so much violence, injustice and unjustifiable acts of cruelty...

How have you “adapted” this novel for the stage? Have you “transcribed” it as a kind of monologue, allowing Mattis’ inner voices to be heard?

It’s not easy to “get a novel to speak”. For example, it’s very hard to adapt Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment or The Idiot. I’ve seen adaptations of these books for theatre and they can often be very frustrating. So I think it’s better to take a complete excerpt – an excerpt where you can feel the book’s different themes. That’s what I did with The Birds: I took around forty pages that comprise a unit. I wanted to make this passage heard – and make it heard like the story itself. I think there’s something fascinating about the story – more than the dialogue in fact. In this story there’s basic turmoil: admiring, being affected, being moved, being attracted by someone everyone else judges to be an inferior being. The excerpt was chosen by Laurent Cazanave, the young actor I’m going to be working with. I did a workshop on Vesaas at the TNB’s school in Rennes (Centre Européen Théâtrale et Chorégraphique, Ed.) and suggested several excerpts; this is the one he chose. It’s a very distinctive moment in the book: Mattis experiences a miracle for a day. Some girls come for a swim close to an island where he’s become stranded because his boat has been taking in water. They joke with him and although he’s very happy, he’s also worried: he wonders whether they’re aware that people think he’s a half-wit; but they know nothing about him because they’re not from nearby. And so for a while – almost incidentally – he escapes this social condemnation. As a result we see that this condemnation is contrived, that it comes from the outside. And when this weight is removed, the person blossoms... Traces of simplicity become objects of beauty. The excerpt chosen remains a moment of grace, an exceptional moment in Mattis’ life – there are much crueller passages in the book. That’s why I called the production Brume de dieu (God’s Mist). I took the title from Pessoa’s poem, Maritime Ode. I like the title because it gives away two dimensions: the mist which obscures, which makes indistinct and blurred, and at the same time there’s something suggested of another reality through the fog. The idea of God is simply the idea of another dimension of the being. I don’t particularly believe it God and I don’t think Vesaas did either, but he had intuition of a transcendental dimension.

What interests you in such a distinctive form as monologue, and how are you going to handle it in this play?

I’ve done lots of monologues. Most recently Ode maritime, but also Holocauste and Melancholia... I really like solos; it’s doubtless linked to my belief that the story is superior to theatre. Marguerite Duras, for example, thought the same; at the end of her life she said that she preferred reading to a theatrical form. She was very devoted to actors like Madeleine Renaud, Michel Lonsdale, Bulle Ogier and Delphine Seyrig – who happen to be actors I’ve worked with as well – but felt a need to divide voices in India Song between the silent scenes and the voices speaking the words. And she gradually took over the part played by voices. I myself had a very special experience with a mentally ill writer, Emma Santos. I’d hired actors to speak her words but she couldn’t bear the early readings – she couldn’t bear hearing her writing placed outside of her. As a result she asked to do the show herself and did it remarkably well. It’s a striking example of what can be done when you don’t condemn illness as being incompatible with the so-called “normal” world. There’s a line in 4.48 Psychosis which talks about the “chronic insanity of the sane”. When I staged 4.48 Psychosis, I was also struck by how close Emma Santos’ writing was to some of Sarah Kane’s passages – both continually moved between hospital and normal activity.

Mattis is the centre of a kind of “interference of realities”. How do you want to make this interference or turmoil perceptible in your staging of the work?

For me the key thing is in the words. This confusion is in the words. You have to seek to reproduce the words honestly, knowing that the main thing about writing is what isn’t written down. What’s written only serves to suggest, to allow us to hear what isn’t written down – this silent voice of the writing Jon Fosse talks about. The key thing is not to believe that the words contain the meaning. On the contrary, the language has to reveal a hidden world – that’s what the Hebrews said: there’s an obvious meaning and a hidden meaning in words. There is also a buried meaning beneath the hidden meaning and then the suggested meaning, the affected meaning... There are lots of meanings. It’s what makes the story “what you hear” and something else at the same time. Several realities are brought together, each one making itself felt in its own way – and all together.

How do you work with the actors so that their bodies, voices and presence convey what isn’t being said?

It’s always very hard to explain how you work with actors. It’s a question everyone would like the answer to... Jon Fosse says that the important thing about writing is not the activity of writing; the key thing is to listen. He ventures to say that for an actor, the main thing is not to do, but to listen as well. And he thinks you can extend that to the director – an idea I share completely. That’s why you have to start, very humbly, around the table by listening to the words and the voice speaking them – trying to establish where the voice and the words meet. It’s from this passivity, this listening, that you can ask the actor to sense and then convey this feeling; above all to see the images that the words create and try to convey them. In a show where there are no images but only an actor talking, the audience can see an abundance of completely extraordinary images. I found this out when I was directing L’Amante anglaise by Marguerite Duras. After writing Les Viaducs de la Seine et Oise, Duras returned to dialogues which she asked me to direct – and they were impossible to stage! As a result we ended up with complete inertia. After the performance, members of the audience came to see us and talked to us about what they’d seen; they described things with extraordinary precision. So you can get them to see without showing anything and the audience sees even more because you’re not blocking their imagination with imposed images. After Duras I then moved on to Meschonnic, staging his translations of the Bible. In his theoretical works, Meschonnic talks about the inherent theatricality in language. If there’s inherent theatricality in language, you have to be very careful with the other theatricality – the one expressed by external means such as what you see or hear...

An important aspect of Vesaas’ writing is his occasionally halting style, full of disequilibrium...

Yes, you almost get the feeling that he doesn’t know how to write. When you read his different books, you realise that each one has a different kind of writing, a different style. As if he had been looking for his “voice” as a writer all his life. You feel something like an instinctive desire to find the essence of what he means; he touches on the impossibility of saying. Writing – that’s why it exists – never manages to say what it means. The specific nature of a piece of writing bursts out of this impossibility and these clashes. In the end, it’s like Mattis. If this novel is so extraordinary, it’s that there had to be an element in Vesaas – I won’t say of a “half-wit”– but an element of hesitation, of doubt, of repetitions which belong to this character. And as his writing doesn’t seek to hide this difficulty, he manages to express original things, things that clever writers, the ones who find, couldn’t write. You don’t have to know too much about how to talk to be able to write ...The relationship between Vesaas and Jon Fosse is an interesting one: Fosse explains that he started writing after discovering Vesaas’ work. There’s a kinship in their styles of writing, in the research of these uneasy territories between dark and light... The big difference is that Fosse is a cultured man who has studied and read a lot– whereas with Vesaas, you feel something very close to the land. We know that he was born into a family of peasant farmers and that he worked at a very young age with his father – a severe man who said very little. The culture in these countries is particularly harsh– and the young Vesaas was destined to take over the farm. There’s a piece in his final book, The Boat in the Evening, which recalls this atmosphere: a father and son are working on the frozen land and their carthorse gets injured... On the other hand we know that despite the father’s silence, there were evening gatherings on the farm for reading. Not an evening went by without someone reading aloud to the others. We also know that during his teenage years, Vesaas benefited from a kind of university for teenagers and that this is when he came into contact with literature – books by Knut Hamsun for example, which he often spoke about. His vocation for writing led him to give up taking over the farm from his father, but after travelling in Europe, he bought a house close to his father’s farm and lived in the area all his life. He also wrote in this language called Nynorsk – a particular form of Norwegian. I can’t really tell – I don’t speak Norwegian – but it’s a harsh language and hard to master.

It’s almost like the place of the writer is represented through Mattis – the one deciphering the language of birds while the rest of society is busy working.

While other people are just deciphering numbers, yes... It’s well known that in art the immediate result doesn’t count. Major artists have often taken a long time to accomplish their path in life. What would have happened if Varese had been judged just on his first concert when people laughed? Perhaps Mattis allows incomprehension of the world to be revealed for what is truly important. Our minds – developed by the state, the family, religions, the economy – are conditioned to live entirely the other way round. From time to time, it seems to me that works like this one put things the right way round. Even if they don’t seem to be very much... This excerpt tells us about a young man in a leaking boat who doesn’t drown and two girls who come and swim round him in their bathing costumes; it’s very simple, very realistic, but also full of openings towards a different perception of things.

To return to the production itself, why did you decide to work with a young actor?

I often work with young actors in workshops and schools and sometimes this work generates an idea for a show. That was the case with Marcial Di Fonzo Bo when we did Paroles du sage, Henri Meschonnic’s translation of Ecclesiastes. We created it in Rennes, in a small space beneath the tiers at the TNB, before taking the show to the Ménagerie de Verre. The theatre in the Ménagerie has a low ceiling but quite magical proportions. It’s a place I really like, so I decided to stage the show at the Ménagerie de Verre in Paris. We’re starting rehearsals in December and will be acting during the holidays until the end of January in a very limited space. Again it’s quite a humbling experience and again it’s starting in Rennes. What interests me is exploring literary texts and doing it with young actors who aren’t yet spoiled by plying their profession. Work being what it is, if an actor doesn’t work, he’s soon excluded. As a result, how can you do anything other than accept being in conventional theatre? How do you sustain yourself with research and difficulty?

Lighting plays a very important part in your productions. How are you going to deal with this dimension in Brume de dieu?

For Ode maritime, I wanted to experiment with the very particular quality of light produced by LEDs. Theatre people don’t use it very much because they’re not really used to it and because the technology is not yet completely up to scratch. In my next shows, I plan to continue experimenting with that quality of light. They’re diodes, so it’s pure light and there are no gels. You don’t see the beams, you can’t tell where the light is coming from – it seems to be emanating from the actor himself. In these low intensities which I’m happy to use, there’s a remarkable clarity and at the same time a kind of hallucination produced by the haziness. For me, working on light is a way of transforming the being. There are several beings in each of us and it’s important to allow them to appear – not just to photograph a single aspect, a single image.

In some way you want to return the body on stage to a state of mist...

That’s right, by working on the body and face. Last time I decided to light the actor only a very little so that the imagination is left free to travel out from the words themselves. If you focus too much on the actor’s face and work, you have less space to free the imagination. It’s not about working in complete darkness. Despite everything, the image is important, the body, the medium of the human being – it’s the basis for telling the story of all beings.

Claude Régy was interviewed by Gilles Amalvi during the Festival d’Automne à Paris 2010

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Claude Régy was born in 1923. Reading Dostoyevsky as an adolescent “had the same effect on him as an axe blow shattering a frozen sea”. After studying politics, he went on to train in drama under Charles Dullin and then Tania Balachova. In 1952, his first production was the French premiere of Garcia Lorca’s Doña Rosita . He rapidly moved away from psychological realism and naturalism, rejecting the simplification of so-called “political” theatre. Far from entertainment, he chose to venture towards other spaces of performance and life: lost spaces. Contemporary dramatic writing – works he had discovered more often than not – guided him towards borderline experiences where certainties about the nature of reality fall away. In France Claude Régy has premiered plays by Harold Pinter, Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, Edward Bond, Peter Handke, Botho Strauss, Maurice Maeterlinck, Gregory Motton, David Harrower, Jon Fosse and Sarah Kane and he has directed, among others, Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli, Delphine Seyrig, Michel Bouquet, Jean Rochefort, Madeleine. Renaud, Pierre Dux, Maria Casarès, Alain Cuny, Pierre Brasseur, Michael Lonsdale, Jeanne Moreau, Gérard Depardieu, Bulle Ogier, Christine Boisson, Valérie Dréville, Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Quentin Châtelain.

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