The international festival of theatre organized in Oujda by Commedrama (12-16 May), a joyful journey of discovery
By Chourouq Nasri
The ninth edition of the international festival organized in Oujda from May 12 through May 16 2016 was a memorable event for the oujdi public. Commedrama, a theater company based in Oujda succeeded in transforming Théâtre Mohamed 6, a big building constructed a year ago, into an international public arena in which the audiences were offered the chance to see new and unfamiliar works. Every night, people came to see plays from different countries: Algeria, Switzerland, France, Mexico, Spain and Morocco. The program of the festival was designed by Mohamed Benjeddi, the artistic director of Commedrama and Hjriya Amara, the president of the company. It gave oujdi audiences the gift of an international, multidisciplinary theatre in which actors and spectators were united in a joint adventure and exploration of dramatic experience.
Le docteur Miracle, a comic operettabased onGeorges Bizet’s text
Le docteur Miracle, a French comic opera in one act, written by the French composer Georges Bizet in the 19th century and produced by the French company “Opera Ex Nihilo” was the first performance to take place in the festival. This was probably the first time an opera was performed in Oujda. The musical play is about trying to get Silvio and Laurette together and married. Docteur Miracleis in fact an officer, Silvio who is in love with Laurette, the mayor’s daughter and who made many attempts in order to be united with her. Laurette’s father does not like the military and is against his daughter’s marriage with Silvio. In order to be close to Laurette, the officer disguises himself as a servant who has to prepare the meals and serve the family. But the mayor finds out his true identity and fires him. Silvio then disguises himself as Docteur Miracle and offers to cure the mayor who thinks that he is empoisoned in return for Laurette’s hand in marriage.
In this opera, our visual and auditory senses are delighted by brilliant singing and brilliant acting. The combination of romance, humor, and astounding music turns the stage into an emotional and mobile space constantly changed by the performers. The “Omelette quartet” is one of the most hilarious and ravishing moments of the opera. When Pasquin (Silvio) serves the omelette, the family sings its praises and offers a cocktail of humorous music. But when the mayor, his wife and Laurette taste it, they all start to choke because it is disgusting.
In Rahela, theatre is a seeing, hearing and smelling place!
Rahela is an Algerian play produced by “Cooperative théâtre El Bahdja”. It is written by Meriem Alleg and directed by Tounes Ait Ali. Tounes Ait Ali is also the actress who plays the role of a single mother who mixes reality and illusion and suffers from hallucinations. The story is filled with clichés: a girl is forced to marry with an old man at a very young age; she is rejected by her family because she asks for divorce and eventually obtains it; she falls in love with a man she encounters at court but he turns to be a rapist and the one person he rapes is his own stepdaughter!
Still, Rahela is not entirelyvoid of merit. The physical power and the agility of Algerian actress, Tounes Ait Ali compensates for the poor quality of the plot. The visual and scenographic media used in the play transform an ordinarytext into an amazing show. Every inch of the theatre space is exploited to the maximum. The stage is divided into two spaces, a sensory and visual space and a verbal space. In the first part of the stage, the everyday patterns of folk art serve both a functional and decorative purpose. It is occupied by a musician who does not have a role in the story but whose music contributes to give shape to the play. The second section of the stage is decorated in dark colors with what seems to be an inner room concealed behind curtains and a child’s dress which is floating in the air. This space is reserved for the protagonist and narrator of the play. By dividing the stage, the dynamic of the space is altered and the spectators are allowed to see two actions at the same time while becoming aware of the difference in status between people on either side of the stage.
Quimera, the amusing story of a sad clown!
Quimera is a play produced by the Spanish company, “Gargallada Teatro”. It is written by Gabriel Prada Rodriguez and directed by Paco Juan Prada Cobo. The play tells the story of a sad clown who invents happiness by using the props and accessories he finds in his case. A solitary actor, an empty space, a grey box and a case convey the whole world of the clown: past, present, reality and fantasy. The clown fills the stage with his energy and color, conveying a belief to the audience that three dolls could stand for his wife and his two children. His humorous external environment is in direct contrast to his internal, painful world. To tell the sad story of a lonely man, the author chose to create an actor in a non verbal space, exploring the interaction of the performer, the music, the space and the public. The combination of music, lighting and brilliant acting tells an entire story that words could not convey. The plain grey box becomes a truly expressive space that tells an unspoken story of fear and isolation. The confrontation between spectators and the non-verbal performance directly challenges their perception of where they are and what they understand by theatre.
Moi, Ota, la rivière d'Hiroshima, a wonderful play filled with poignant, lyrical imagery!
Moi, Ota, la rivière d'Hiroshima is a play produced by the Swiss company, “Compagnie TA58”. The text is written by Jean-Paul Alègre and directed by Cédric Laubscher. Ota, the river of Hiroshima is a focal point of the city and the play. Swiss actress Natacha Astuto who is dressed in a marvelous white costume tells the tragic story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Different stories are intertwined in this play: the story of the USA presidents and their scientific consultants who prepare the atomic bomb; the story of the inhabitants of Hiroshima who know nothing of their imminent tragic fate and the story of Ota, the river who flows through the villages and the towns and whose lyrical text says how peaceful and happy people’s lives are.
Three grey, plain benches are the only furniture used in this play. Still, space becomes a living personality with a past, a present and a future. Space is shaped and altered by the actors as the play evolves. All the different parts of the stage live at different times of the performance through the use of light or the placing of the actors. As Ota moves swiftly between the actors and tells the poignant story of Hiroshima in sparkling, lyrical language, Natacha Astuto’s deep voice encourages the audience to believe what they could see and to imagine what they could not. Her words make the stage live and breathe and engage the audience who can imagine cities, villages, rivers and mountains without any scene changes. Music and lighting are used to indicate simultaneous happenings in different places: Tokyo, Hiroshima and Washington. Parallel worlds are created on the stage, portraying different places, subtly interwoven at times, and yet seeming separate.
Scenography is used in this play in such a way as to enhance and reveal the text and the story behind it and provide a human face to a historical, but “abstract” event. The play experiments with different media: music, lighting, video, natural river sounds. All are used to prepare us for the crucial moment of the play, the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. All throughout the play, the public is touched with the expectation that a huge atomic bomb will be thrown on Hiroshima. When the bomb finally explodes, the whole building is shaken! The spectators are scared! Their real time and lives are fused into the dramatic time of the play!
In Ghorba, a small team of very talented actors address the theme of migration
Commedrama participated in the festival with a play entitled Ghorba and written by Mostapha Ramdani. It is a comedy which tells the story of three men, who disguise themselves as women in order to work for a company in Spain which hires only women. A shabby, small house in a poor neighborhood is the most important unifying visual element of the play. The plot moves from interior with one of the characters sleeping and dreaming of going to Spain to exterior with other characters who share the same dream. Actors move through the different parts of the stage fluently and naturally so that the audience’s eyes are constantly being taken from the extremities of the stage space to smaller focused moments. An unseen world offstage is indicated simply by the manner in which the actors arrive, sometimes running at speed with great urgency. The play deals with political and cultural themes such as migration and racism in a humorous way. The castarebrilliant and offered afunny and interactive evening to the public. The actors pulled spectators into their world so they could relate to them, but the story is simplistic and superficial. The last scene is one of the most beautiful moments of the play. All the characters are united in this final scene; they talk about their dreams using very few words. However, lighting is manipulated in such a way as to offer the audience a black void in which only moving mouths and eyes are visible, seemingly suspended in space.
Popol-Vuh, a wonderful connection between word and image!
Popol-Vuh is a Mexican play produced by “Centre culturel Gibran Khalil Gibran” and directed by Josué Cabrea. The play tells the story of the creation of the world according to a Maya legend. The Mexican company offered the oujdi public a well-prepared production, beautiful to look at and beautifully played. With the blend of color, image, music and words, space became charged with life and action, engaging through direct dialogue with the audience. The public watched a magical world of masks, painted wooden birds, wooden animals and trees and was transported to the ancient Maya world of myth and mystery. Actors’ faces were painted like masks, their mouths and eyes were heavily accented and colored. Their expression came from their gestures and physical body movements. Off-stage narration, music, dance, song, costumes and acting brought everything together. The combination of different scales and strong colors reflected the author’s vision of life as a mixture of reality and fantasy.
The international festival of theatre was a joyful journey of discovery through which oujdi audiences were transported from their own lives into another reality for a short time. The public was offered the opportunity to watch plays in their original languages and to discover the international language of theatre.