Nineteen years of nothing...
This word strangely symbolizes punishment and grief at the same time.
A long prison sentence
Play created by La compagnie des hommes in March 2016
Locked up behind bars for many years, living in a different world, a different society governed by different rules, how do you speak about this often shameful and silent journey?
The theatrical series “Longues peines” (Long sentences in English) has the power to help us understand and play a part in this strange interval of their lives as we listen to their words, their poetry, their emotions. How does one share this experience? This word “peine” in French strangely symbolizes punishment and grief at the same time.
There are those who have long gone and those who have waited on the outside. Partners, children who share the experience of their loved ones being incarcerated. How they have all been affected by the despair of losing someone so close to them, watching them fade into the darkness of imprisonment.
Here they have the opportunity to emerge from the silence, to speak and be heard, to open doors, discuss and reflect. The theatre is the place of expression, verbal expression. Through all words. The theatre is a space to share. Let’s share with them. Their presence on the stage, their sentences; both their experiences and their words which resound against the arches of the theatre house, their dignity which enlightens their audience. Let us look them face to face. And let us see ourselves looking back.
I have never before hidden my apprehension. Apprehension before starting a new production, familiar sensation of the large blank page that terrifies, paralyses, haunts the nights and shortens them terribly. Apprehension too of meeting these men. What would we have in common? How to accept one another coming from such different worlds? A vision of the world, a language, anything could separate us. How was I going to relate to these unscrupulous rogues, me, a puny man of the theatre, bringing nothing but hot air and dreams to the table?
And so we met. Effortlessly. Painlessly. No trickery. No seduction. Nothing to prove. We all laid our cards on the table, no mask, no deceit. And the worlds that were keeping us apart drew closer together. And fears melted away. And smiles emerged. And laughter. And then we had regular meetings. On stage, over a meal, over a drink. Rituals. Landmarks. And pleasure at each stage… Rarely have things been so simple, people especially. All my earlier apprehensions quickly disappeared like a morning mist on the arrival of the first rays of sun.
We worked, not much. Three weeks. Nothing, a joke. I remember the day I realized that I had nothing to teach them about presence. It was in Lyon, in the welcoming environment of the performing arts centre, Les Subsistances. There they were, on stage, in one fell swoop,with no intention of swopping places. I remember the day; it was the last of the week, when I knew how things would go on stage. It was obvious. The concern is when the obvious is a long time coming…
And then there was the food. Just as important as the rest, if not more so.
In Lyon, we enjoyed excellent cuisine prepared by a nearby restaurant. Everything was delicious and we ate like horses. That was during the early days when we were caught up in the enthusiasm of discovery and awakening.
In the Camargue, second week of rehearsals. Here, it was Paulette who came every day with her pots and pans. She concocted tasty dishes for us, all lovingly prepared. Fresh market products, sensuous desserts and daily surprises. Spoken words followed by sweet treats. A mouth that gives and receives. We were, I think, in a moment of harmony, of calm. Less quantity, more pleasure at the moment.
In Marseille, home straight. Evening meal taken together at the theatre. Dreary room with gloomy lighting. Exotic dinner prepared by a community restaurant that treated us to Kurdish dishes, Berber and others...We took pleasure in eating, but the countdown had begun and we had an appointment. A peaceful austerity, a quiet concentration.
Meals tell a story. The dish makes it clear.
Didier Ruiz, for Prison Insider
Paris, 7 June 2016