16, 17, 19/05 > 20:30
20/05 > 22:00

The unconquered Amazon Penthesilea is hit in the heart by an arrow of love fired by Achilles. She desires him and... tears him apart, devours him and then succumbs herself. Kleist created a play out it which has been picked up by five talented and interdependent young creators. They separate out its monologue and crystallise her vacillations with acting that follows the thread of the singing, painting on translucent fibreglass, electro-acoustic music manipulating sounds and voices live and oscillating light and space. In flashes they plunge into the cruel and haunted consciousness of a woman at war with herself as her flesh and her mind falter with fatal effects. The stage is her abyss.

Creation based on the text by
Heinrich Von Kleist
Françoise Berlanger
Visual art
Marcel Berlanger
Françoise Berlanger
Assistant to the director
Elise Vandergoten
Cédric Dambrain, Patrick Delges
Scenography & costumes
Thibault Vancraenenbroeck
Xavier Lauwers
La Cerisaie, Ministère de la Communauté française - Service du Théâtre & Musique classique, Théâtre de la Place, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts
Thanks to
SACD, La Fabrique de Théâtre, Michel Tanner, Claude Turmes, Olivier Bastin, Dan Liefooghe, F-X Locquet, Veronika Mabardi, Sofie Kokaj, Marie-Christophe Lambert, Le CIFAS, La Balsamine, Wallonie-Bruxelles-Théâtre, ma fille Ora Liefooghe, Jenny Hassewer, Gérard Berlanger, Isabelle Berlanger, Jean Tempels, Véronique Pironet, Olivier Berlanger, Sandra Cécius, Thierry V., Jo Carton...
Théâtre National de la Communauté française, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

This play is dedicated to the belgian writer and director Jean-Christophe Lauwers (1971-2001)

Back to top

I am the African Medusa, I,
And where you stand shall turn you into stone.

For now I shall descend into my breast,

Deep as a mine, and dig there, cold as ore,

A feeling that annihilates my soul.

This ore I purify in sorrow’s fire,

Harden to steel; in venom plunge it then,

In searing anguish temper through and through;

Take it to lay on hope’s eternal anvil,

And grind and sharpen it to make a dagger;

And to this dagger now present my heart:
So! So! So! So! Once more still! – It is well.

Heinrich von Kleist, Penthesilea, Scenes XXIII and XXIV, in Five German Tragedies, translated by F. J. Lamport, Penguin Books, England 1969, pp 407 and 423.

“No one thing is at the service of another, but each is the condition of the other”. Five young creators have worked together to “unlock the inside”, to release Penthesilea’s terror-stricken consciousness. She is queen of the Amazons, a free and warrior-like band who reject male ascendancy of any kind, starting with that of love. However Penthesilea falls suddenly and madly in love with Achilles on the battlefield. Her desire tears her apart because it is an absolute transgression of her reason and of the laws of her clan. Heinrich Von Kleist, one of the most original exponents of German Romanticism, explores the deadly fall of this mythical figure in his radical and unsteady play. His words survey her violent feelings and the unleashing of her consciousness.

“It was Penthesilea’s various states as depicted by Kleist that brought us together. We didn’t come together to see which project we were going to do: it was the project itself which attracted each of us to it.” ‘Us’ here are actress/director Françoise Berlanger,visual artist Marcel Berlanger, musicians Cédric Dambrain and Patrick Delges, set and costume designer Thibault Van Craenenbroeck and lighting designer Simon Siegmann.

“Each is the condition of the other …” The creative approach that started to take place was like a prism. Its initial ideas came from the written words that convey this woman’s progression as she is plagued by vacillations, ideas that collide with the theatre space of the mind, a word that is diffracted wherever the acting, painting, music, set design and lighting take it as they move, interact and complement each other. Kleist’s words are like a fluid in a constant volume that continues to seek its equilibrium in several communicating vessels with each discipline being brought into play. Even the final assembly of Kleist’s fragments will only become stable at the final rehearsal stage.

Since 2002 Marcel the painter has been fascinated by the scope of possibilities offered by painting on a transparent fibreglass canvass: a flexible screen made rigid with resin before he creates an oil painting shot through with light. It can be viewed from either side. His visual intervention can be interpreted here like words in a puzzle, like Freud who spoke of dreams as “writing in images” asking to be deciphered: words of a story – the dreamer’s riddle – that compose a chain of associations for interpretation. Chrysanthemum, cypress, a little floral ball called dorridge green, harpy’s head (diurnal bird of prey), an agave with “aggressive and warrior-like” leaves”. Six images painted in black and white with a realistic stroke and what is depicted is just as important as the structure. Six images on translucent canvasses of different sizes, hanging in lines on the horizon of the mental page of a Penthesilea who will see herself attracted by one or the other depending on the states she is experiencing. Another canvass will be hanging above the audience, perpendicular, perforated by a murderous salvo, perhaps the profile of a woman or the whiteness of an empty surface, virgin and already wounded …

Simon, for his part, is not designing lighting to direct the gaze, but rather a “luminous bath”, a means of providing radiance, aura or irradiation. His lighting is autonomous and will create rhythm and space-time. Being homogenous, it will de-compartmentalise the stage and the theatre. Entering into dialogue, it will be inspired by the musical creation and absorbed into Penthesilea’s various states. Thibault is the set designer who also creates the costumes. He is seeing that all moves and circulates as a whole: he wants the actress’s moving body “plunged into an element of instability”, the fixed presence of musicians for whom he is designing the directions of their sound. The floor will disappear beneath white smoke, a voluble and volatile carpet, alive wherever Penthesilea’s goes. She is half-woman, half-animal, cut in two: a bare chest with a fair skin and a wide skirt in supple animal skin, black, shining… silky and heavy.

At the back of the stage, two musicians are slightly raised, one on a computer, the other on synthesisers. They provide an auditory echo of Penthesilea’s changed consciousness, shown in relief against the abyss she is approaching. Cédric and Patrick perform in real time during a lengthy work where the sound material will have made them actively involved in (de)structuring Kleist’s words, up to the final assembly of it all. The actress’s voice, its grainy texture, breath, timbre and rhythm are mobilising elements for the music as much as they are mobilised for her. Profound interactivity is at work. Sound as an inner echo of physical states. The actress’s vocality has movement. The synthesiser has gradual and obsessive developments. The computer has the arborescence of scathing, sombre and pulsating elements.

The initial ideas in the words written by Kleist have been dismantled so that they can be reconstructed more effectively. The way they are put together will not follow the line of the narration. “We had to de-structure it to live inside the body of the language and use its syntax through the prism of different disciplines.” Françoise suggests to her colleagues a variety of ways to articulate the words, continually making improvements. She tests them vocally and catalyses them around the different states that she, as an actress, will convey. The content and sound of the language are on just one and the same journey. With Kleist, inexpressible violence is never incarnated, but is pictured inside the word. Telescoping the lyrical and the concrete, the urge and reason, these are experiments on Penthesilea’s vacillations, fluctuating endlessly between laughter, joy and tears, distress, between the alert of the hunt, rage, savagery and determined concentration. “The contrasts between these states are very strong and it is key for us that we don’t emphasise anything: preferring the unstable to the fixed, the power of the word to the intention of the acting, removing the barrier between the inside and the outside.”

“The romantic is fertile ground for researching the unconscious”, concludes Marcel. There are some geometric figures on the work table: a Moebius strip and the hypnotic circle of a torus whose metaphor Lacan seized hold of as the basis of some of his theories, existing forms like those in underground networks, providing inspiration for every discipline required on stage. No way out, a sloped stage, journeying along a path whose surface constantly changes depth, without an up or a down, upside down …

Kleist wrote about Penthesilea: “Nothing can bring her out of her darkness and her secret”. Other than death. Her ultimate release?

Claire Diez

Back to top

Françoise Berlanger was born in Oran, Algeria in December 1969. After studying physical education and physiotherapy, she broached theatre in 1989 with the writer, director and dramaturge Veronika Mabardi. She watched and became involved with the Ateliers de l'Echange in Brussels, and also did mask performances with Mario Gonzales, Serge Poncelet and the group Commedia All Improviso between 1990 and 1994. She studied dramatic interpretation at INSAS between 1994 and 1997 and on graduating acted solely for new companies in Switzerland, France, Italy and Belgium, attracted by extreme and talented young directors like Claire Gatineau, Fabrice Gorgerat, Jamal Youssfi, Jean-Marc Musial, Sofie Kokaj, Marine Haulot and Benoit Verhaert, working on plays by writers like Müller, Trolle, Lorca, Weiss, de Sade, Pasolini, Verheggen and Gunzig or even works of their own. After studying under Mathias Langhoff at "L'école des maîtres", focusing on Euripides and Ezra Pound, she decided to direct, joining the young Belgian director and writer Jean-Christophe Lauwers in 1999. Together in a disused venue in north Brussels they staged Müller's Cement and La guerre selon Gianfranco Cavalli Sforza by Müller, Weiss, Verheggen and J-C Lauwers. In 2001, she decided to explore theatre through other disciplines like music and visual art, joining forces with the visual artist Marcel Berlanger, the composer Dan Liefooghe and the musician F-X Locquet on a work adapted from a play by the romantic German writer Heinrich von Kleist. Further encounters with Cédric Dambrain, Patrick Delges, Tibault Van Craenenbroeck and Simon Siegmann reinforced her desire to bring another side to theatre. Her first piece of dramatic writing, L'oeuf blanc, has just been selected for the Enfin seul festival in Brussels in October 2006.

Back to top