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Report: Avignon theatre festival 2014

Youth take the stage in Avignon Festival

Christophe Raynaud de Lage / Festival d'Avignon

One of the thrusts of the new management at the Avignon Festival under stage director Olivier Py, is youth, including stage-craft by and/or for young people. RFI’s Rosslyn Hyams reports from Avignon on a play by the youngest company taking part in the Festival this year. 

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Lazare Herson-Macarel and his mates first came to the Avignon Festival to perform in the fringe festival ‘Off’ about 10 years ago. They were still in high school and around 16 years old. At that time, they were the youngest troupe taking part in the event.

This year the expanded troupe, under the name, Aimable Jeunesse (Likeable Youth), are the youngest in the official Festival, the ‘In’.

They adapted French director/playwright Valère Novarina’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry 4th into a show for children ten years old and up. Their venue, the Chapel of the White Penitents in Avignon is one of the smaller venues, but one that quickly establishes a rapport between the stage and the audience.

It’s ideal for this adapted adaptation which during it’s approximately one hour running-time is played in a range of theatrical genres, including pantomime and most of all, is ‘at play’.

Herson-Marcel who directs Falstafe says, “I think that’s how to produce Shakespeare, and that’s probably the way he would have done it.”

Falstafe is a fictional character, who leads the young prince and future Henry IV of England astray. In this play, the obvious and lumpy padding makes an expressive and adequately rascally Joseph Fourez a very fat man adding to his ridiculous behaviour (more clown than ridiculous in this play however). Nonetheless, the bad fairy-like Mrs Quigley/Compère (Morgane Nairaud) is enamoured of him

As well as distinct make-up (and a how-to demonstration from Philippe Canales who plays Henry’s father The King), the company makes the most of kitchenware and dustbins as props, musical instruments and costumes (notably a bread knife as a sword). They sing too. It’s fun-theatre, like children do using whatever they find to “make-believe”.

As Henry IV and Henry Percy his rival (Julien Romelard) mastered battling with himself (with the bread-knife) and allowing the audience to believe he was two people by way of his posture, voice, attitude and woolly cloche hat which he whisked out of a back pocket in a twist creating that sought-after illusion of reality.

The actors may be young but they are already quite polished; real troopers who managed to cope with aplomb with an incident which briefly halted the performance, allowing the audience to quickly return to Tudor times, to the magic of the theatre.

Aimable Jeunesse’s adaptation of Valère Novarina’s Falstafe is off next to the theatre festival the enterprising Herson-Macarel started in 2009 with about 20 or so friends, near the western city of Angers. Unlike Falstafe, who gets his come-uppance, this young director uses his skills in dramatical trickery to good end.

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