HABIT(U)ATION

Théâtre National

20, 23/05 – 20:15
21/05 – 19:00
22/05 – 15:00
FR > NL
1h 45min

If you plunge a frog into boiling water, it immediately jumps out. Meanwhile, if you immerse it in water and gradually bring it to the boil, it becomes sluggish and dies. In psychology, this allegory of the frog is used to illustrate the phenomenon of ‘habituation’: the syndrome affecting the dysfunctional family brought to the stage by Anne-Cécile Vandalem. The father cuts and packs salmon in the fanciful expectation of a trip to his company’s head office in Norway, the mother works for an insurance company, while the aunt is a bus driver on a desperately circular route. In HABIT(U)ATION, it is total immobility that Vandalem reveals to us: her characters are dead and their environment has the upper hand. Only little Anni still feels at home in this space that is disintegrating both physically and mentally. She contrasts the sordid mechanics of everyday life with a fantastical world, using imagination as a survival strategy. This unusual piece only goes to show that Vandalem can rightfully count herself among young French-speaking directors in Belgium who are conquering the big stages.

Concept, text & dramaturgy
Anne-Cécile Vandalem

With
Brigitte Dedry, Véronique Dumont, Alexandre Trocki, Epona Guillaume, Chloé Résibois

Radio voice
Christian Crahay

Scenography & props
Marie Szersnovicz

Masks
Jean Raymond Brassinne

Photography
Christophe Urbain

Paintings
Geneviève Periat

Clothing
Henriette Reusser

Light
Samuel Marchina

Music & sound
Pierre Kissling

Sound design
Juliette Wion

Costumes design
Laurence Hermant

Make up
Marie Messien

Collaboration to the texts
Christine Aventin

Assistant dramaturgy
Céline Gaudier

Assistant set design
Marie-Christine Meunier

Technical concept & machinery
Vital van Kriekinge, Rudi Bovy, Jamila Hadiy

Technical advisor
Jean-Luc Goossens (S.T.P asbl)

Technical coordination
Vital van Kriekinge

Sound direction
Eric Ronsse

Light direction
Patrick Ortega

Stage direction
Jamila Hadiy, Rudi Bovy

Intern
Julien Pire

Thanks to
A big thanks to the workshops of Théâtre National (Dominique Pierre, Yves Philippaerts, Pierre Jardon) and the technical team of of Théâtre de Namur (Alain Baume, Alain Joachim, Raimon Comas Franch and the interns Simon Dereze, Pauline Buche, Jean Philippe Hardy) for the construction of the set.
Special thanks to Henriette Reusser and Patrick Ortega. Thanks to Olivier Bony, Daniel Bajoit, Jessica Batut, Laura Blanco Sanchez, Pierre Bodson, Vincent Cahay, Séverine Closset, Gaëtan d’Agostino, Alain de l’Harpe, Cédric Eeckhout, Jeff, Georis, Matthew Higuet, Zoé Kovacs, Kadija Leclere, Carole Louis, Ralf Nonn (KVS), Pelegrie, Bénédicte Pesser, Katia Pipenstock, François Prodhomme, Christine Slangen, Julien Soumillon, Jean-Bastien Tinant, Camille Toussaint, Aurélie Trivillin, Camille Vogeleisen, François Xavier Willems.

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre National de la Communauté française

Production
Théâtre de Namur/Centre Dramatique

Coproduction
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, das Fräulein asbl (Brussels), Théâtre National de la Communauté française (Brussels), Bonlieu, Scene nationale d’Annecy, Théâtre de la Place (Liège)

With the support of
Ministere de la Communauté française – Service du Théâtre

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HABIT(U)ATION
Second part of the Trilogie des parenthèses

For me, the second stage of this trilogy was about exploring the phenomenon of agony. Not the kind of agony felt in extreme suffering, but moments of varying duration when the world takes on its most significant meaning, when a brutal light is shed on life by vanishing possibilities. Emotions and feelings sparkle like sensations of living life to the full, complete for ever and finally totally proven. Agony, a summary of existence, perhaps the most intense moment we will ever get to experience. Its objective duration does not matter.

Are you familiar with the allegory of the frog? The story goes that if you plunge a frog into boiling water, it jumps out immediately, whereas if you plunge the frog into cold water and gradually bring it to the boil, little by little it becomes sluggish and is boiled alive. This is the concept of habituation, a term in psychology that means learning not to react to repeated stimulus. What helps it adapt then turns against the poor animal who cannot see the threat coming.

When I heard it, the allegory suddenly gave me an idea. The sudden idea of a possibility: the writing of HABIT(U)ATION.

From my earliest productions, the family has been my favourite topic to play with and explore because it is a fantastic place in which the set of relationships defines members’ positions and identities. Relationships are formed in such a way that each person takes the place indicated by the others as his. And this interdependency between people, some linked to others, others linked by some, is a powerful machine for generating dramatic situations. But primarily the family is an obvious place in which relationships generate new people and thus seal their respective journey.

This is where they are welcomed and where in general people say goodbye. Even if isolated and lonely, a person always comes from a family history – on this, see (Self)Service, the first part of the trilogy. As if between parentheses, family histories offer stories involving our fundamental attitude towards life and the world. Indeed, the very essence of the Trilogie des parenthèses is to take a look at reality, as this space-time where people are irreducibly singular and have ways of being in the world without necessarily having a shared grammar. Stories intersect but escape routes diverge, posing the question to each person about his position, the role he is led to play, the desires which result in the latent and occasionally explosive conflicts this can sometimes cause. These are visceral dramas.

From there, it is not about positioning imagination – like an escape in the face of reality – or the individual against the group. In the journey of existence, the fact of having a conscience involves reality to an excessive degree. An image in a mirror is no more imagined than the mirror in which it is reflected. Similarly, if we break this mirror, the fragments still all come from this mirror. And along the fracture lines which now form a new reality, the images accentuate the distortions, changes of tempo, and non-connections redrawing the new image of reality thus fragmented. Reality is always more complex than realist conventions would have us believe. And we are not really very conscious of the number of simultaneous plans unfolding in the journey of lives. Indeed the fracture lines of a shattered mirror represent these grey areas of our existence, the ones covering the ambiguous relationships that form our sense of reality. Zones of varying instability with life endlessly taking note as we move through different levels. It is about taking into account – fully and at the same time – the image, the mirror and the fracture lines on the surface. Not just taking them into account, but making them felt.

The stage is an ideal place for laying out the simultaneity of levels and looks. Like a shattered mirror, the family becomes the very place where the future of individuals is confronted with the shared dynamism along fracture lines. But the individuals’ future and shared dynamism mutually engage one another, endlessly passing back and forth. Sometimes, the need for stability and identity fixed once and for all can overwhelm us to the point of paralysis. Tedium ends up covering everything. Immobile and entrenched in their habits, no one is really free, happy or alive.

The Sennes family shows us the risk inherent in the group. Cut off in their house (habitation), immobile and without a future, they find themselves facing the ambivalences of habituation, when it has turned against life and preservation – like our frog in the saucepan brought to the boil.

The circular movement caused by any routine quickly imposed itself as the principal motif and the situation being shown is part of this. Circular movement like the goldfish in its bowl, but circular movements too linking the family to the outside world: the circle of the post-industrial food chain to which the father contributes by packing salmon from Chile in cellophane before sending it on to Norway; the journeys on the circular route of the number 3 bus, which has been driven day after day by the aunt for years. These routines link the family to the outside world and show the situation in the family lounge from the inside. This useless immobility and inability to make the slightest difference is conveyed by a quasi-absence of language. Only a few stereotypical phrases and quasi-automatic actions indicate the relationships and positions between the characters without naming them.

In this strange ballet, as in life, the positions do not always match the roles. The mother here is not a nurturing kind of person. The father, who is only kept going by his work, has also abandoned his position in favour of the aunt who ends up assuming all the roles. Added to outside routines then is the stable variation in roles and positions which set the scene in the house. The house is this parallel setting where everything, and everyone, appears to have its place. Boredom and failure to act allow an image to be created which has almost no need of words to be drawn out.

The real issue was putting a young girl in this picture. A new person who has scarcely arrived, for whom everything instinctively has meaning. She is this new person who hands out all the cards again. Inside the house, the relationships are in relation to her. The roles have to be filled and kept for her sake. On stage as in the story. In the more or less immobile life of the Sennes family, she occupies this median position as a passive spectator of situations that are nevertheless going to be built up around her. This is how she brings out the relief in the image. She is the point through which all these parallel lines intersect and at the same time she constitutes her own reality which has to co-exist alongside that of the others. She alone perhaps possesses and offers a united image of the family and a feeling of the world that allows her to imagine another vanishing point.

And then events come together and the machine starts to unblock. An embargo stops the movement of dead fish which now start to pile up in the family’s lounge. Court action ends the father’s career and leaves him with disability allowance that can be converted into a pension. The public transport company recruits younger staff on her aunt’s route, relegating her to a professional dead end. The little live fish starts swimming on the spot in its aquarium. The first effect of things being curbed is conveyed by the return of speech, in a desperate attempt to reconnect ties and repair the former stability enjoyed by things and people. However this attempt is futile since the process is going to get compellingly out of control.

At the start of her life, Anni, the little girl, is going to begin to take action and speak. She is going to trigger the acceleration of the process and ignite the family’s already saturated air. Like the scientist who decides to bring the saucepan containing the sluggish frog to the boil, she engages the agony of the family and the house.

The mirror and the image shatter in one and the same movement. Anni brings her aquarium to the boil, accidentally triggering a deadly gas leak. Simultaneously, she lends her voice to an auction of the family’s assets, a fictional sale of real objects and identities. The auction is this decisive interlude where material existence and psychological existence are going to merge, like a mirror and its image. As a result, fracture lines are revealed and the stage becomes the place where the different characters also reveal the coexistence of their reality. These irreconcilable realities in fact take on an ultimate meaning, allowing each person to realise the definitive form linked to his visceral desires. Each journey is now engaged in this crazy future, one of agony, where – as with sleeping – dreamlike reality actually merges with physical reality. The final image at the moment of my death is no more unreal than the “happy birthday” I wished you five minutes ago. So it is not a situation being fantasised about in the eyes of a young girl, it is complete reality paying its due here to the psychological world. It is the accidental and collective death of a family of which each person is going to contribute to reality, the form finally experienced. In this agony, it could well be that the psychological world is taking its revenge on the body’s usual world, in such a way that beyond the breakdown of the machine, the real event can be found in the stream of images and mental metamorphoses. A soul falling apart or disappearing does just happen like a flick of the switch.

By Anne-Cécile Vandalem
Written with Jean-Bastien Tinant
Translation: Claire Tarring

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Anne-Cécile Vandalem is an actor, writer and director. She has acted with various companies such as Le Corridor (SMATCH, L’Opéra Bègue) and Transquinquennal (Harry) and worked in film for directors who include Frédéric Fonteyne (Fatal Attraction), Frédéric Forestier (Les Parrains), Xavier Serron (Rien d’insoluble), Dominique Standaert (Formidable), Anne Leclercq (Le besoin pressant d’une occupation amoureuse quelconque, Dissonance), Laura Wandel and Gaetan D’Agostino (O Negatif). In 2003, she set up the Résidence Catherine company which went on to become Das Fräulein Kompanie, writing, directing and acting for it in productions such as Zaï Zaï Zaï Zaï, Hansel et Grete l and (Self)Service.

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