A man and a woman have come together to tell us about Diderot’s novel,
The play has a supremely innovative structure, comprising only of dialogue that refuses to move forward, in which nothing happens, and everything happens.
The show is centred around the power of words, the perils of words, the disorientation of words. The two players are having a dialogue, but constantly “umm” and “ah” and pause and redact what they’ve just said to try to clarify what they mean. The man is a somewhat pedantic character, correcting the woman, for example, when she says Jacques and his master sit on horses for the entire novel. “Well, not all the time”, he says, while she retorts that it was just a figure of speech. But is it ever clear in language what is literal, what is figurative, what the subtexts and connotations are? Language is always slipping away.
Even the relationship between the two players is open to interpretation. “Well, I am a he, and you are a she, and that opens the imagination”, the man says. Yet there are only the obliquest suggestions that they might be a romantic couple. “We’ve just met”, he protests, and she answers, “but we are here, talking to each other for all this time”.
The script celebrates the power of words and a wish to escape from them. The man says he has experienced his mother’s death three times: first with her literal death, then a second time with an inability to remember her, then a third time when he looked at the medical reports, full of numbers and statistics that he couldn’t make sense of. Yet it is by recounting her last words to himself that he was able to remember her again.
Showing traces of post-structuralist thought, this new play written by Ans and Louise Van den Eede explores some key ideas of 20th century philosophy about language. The two players, Jeroen Van der Ven and Ans Van den Eede brilliantly play the the parts of two people who are tentative, earnest, frustrated, and keen on wading their way through this talk about Diderot’s novel.
I hesitated before giving the show five stars. The truth is that it is slow-paced, at times noticeably so, and it requires some degree of patience from the audience. But this slow pace is an essential part of what the show is trying to achieve. Words are frustrating. Words cannot ‘mean’ by themselves: we must make them mean something, often with great peril. The play, then, forces the audience members to grasp at their own threads, piecing together thoughts and words in what way pleases them. The play has a supremely innovative structure, comprising only of dialogue that refuses to move forward, in which nothing happens, and everything happens.