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Report: Avignon festival

Sex, sects and sadism in stage version of Houellebecq's Atomised

"Les Particules Elémentaires" by Julien Gosselin
"Les Particules Elémentaires" by Julien Gosselin © Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Festival d'Avignon

Julien Gosselin, who hasn’t yet reached 30, directs a cast of 11 on a big stage at Vedène outside Avignon in Les Particules Elémentaires (Atomised), a novel written by Michel Houllebecq, whom Gosselin describes as “one of the greatest living writers”.

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Houllebecq has also been described as subversive due to the damning view he gives of an irreversibly decadent humankind, or at least of Western civilisation as we’d like to think of it.

Gosselin and his company – Si vous pouviez lécher mon coeur(If you could lick my heart) - some of whom he met at drama school not so many years ago, make the most of Houellebecq’s copious and graphic descriptions of sexual relationships in the 1960s and 70s.

Some of the action (the character Bruno Clément’s bad luck with women) caused laughter, some (sadism enjoyed in sects) an uneasy silence. The humour in the text is sometimes witty, sometimes basic. Gosselin does his best with it.

Not easy to transpose a novel on the stage, as that’s what plays are written for.

Gosselin seems, for now, capable of mastering technically at least a large cast, a big stage and an opus. He has yet to wean himself off his theatrical influences and develop his own creative streak.

With Les Particules Elémentaires he comes across as the disciple of most of the leading contemporary stage directors in Europe, whose work has been seen over the past decade or so at the Avignon Festival and elsewhere. Big screen, web camera, costumes on/costumes off, for example.

The play lasts for almost four hours and some parts seem to be unnecessarily repeated.
However, at the end of the play, the applause was generous.

A new generation is born in Avignon in a year where writing takes centre-stage.

Till 13 July at 3 pm at Vedène near Avignon.

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