Dieudonné Niangouna's Sheda dazzles Avignon audience
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Four hours plus a half-hour break pass quickly in Dieudonné Niangouna’s world of dream and nightmare on stage.
Sheda is performed in the Boulbon Quarry outside of Avignon which is the Festival’s most dramatic and awe-inspiring venue whose beauty takes on different hues and shadows as the night falls in different colours. As a stage, the quarry turns from white and sandy to dark and dusty.
Sheda takes place in an imaginary location – a mine, perhaps a quarry.
There’s water, mountain, a shack and a number of vertical props which lead the eye to a starry sky. Or to the action, such as missiles or bodies falling from high above.
Niangouna had specifically asked the Festival organisers to perform here, surrounded by the raw face of nature, tampered with by humans.
In one of the many dense monologues which stream from the mouth of a falsely crumbling Guardian of the Village of the Dead, played by Mathieu Montanier, is a lengthy satire, relating to a certain media-dominated, if not controlled, lifestyle. Two of Radio France Internationale’s programmes in French even get a mention!
To carry the language, Niangouna’s long-simmering text, the actors’ work is strong; it is physical, whether in monologue or in the chorus dances. Their bodies as well as their voices are rhythmic and well-paced. So that even if, at the more accelerated times, it becomes hard to follow the words, the imagination, the creativity as well as the seamless musical interludes in Sheda, keep the less fit members of the audience going with the play right to the end.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. The preparation for the play was long and fastidious.
Into those four short hours at the Avignon Festival, Niangouna and his African-European crew -11 actors plus two musicians, and all the technical team, as well as a very pretty goat - pack eleven years of reflexion, writing, researching and rehearsing (5 weeks in Congo-Brazzaville and one month in France).
Niangouna, who plays one of the “monologians”, often delivering his speeches in the tone of an angry taxi-driver, says he felt the play had to be physical, above all. He also imagined it in images, drawings, combat and “situations where dialogue and confrontation” are combined. Put it in the form of a Greek tragedy, add references to Shakespeare, to 20th century comic superheros as nightmares, to Mickey Mouse, to late French playwright Berrnard-Marie Koltès, and it’s enough to ensure you return to your seat after the intermission.
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