1998 · Marion De Lorme · Hugo · Vigner (EN)

I have been doing what I wanted to do, and I
have wanted what it was right to do. I am a free agent,

A free agent ! Tell me, then, are they also free,
whose destinies you control ?

"After the glorious revolution of 1830, when theatre had achieved its liberty along with the general public, the plays buried alive by censorship during the age of Restoration burst out of their tombs and noisily spread over all Parisian theatres, where the public, still breathless with joy and anger, welcomed them jubilantly, and justly so. It took some weeks until all traces of censorship were wiped out, to the delight of all. The Comédie-Française remembered Marion de Lorme, and a delegation of ranking personalities sought out the author and urged him to permit it to be performed now that the prohibition had been lifted. They felt that the invective against Charles X in the fourth act - the passage that had caused the piece to be prohibited by the censors - would ensure the success of the work on account of the political reaction to be expected. It was for precisely this reason that the author decided to hold his work back - at least for some limited time. The political views he had expressed in Marion de Lorme made him recall that, at the age of sixteen, when his political passions had persuaded him to enter the political stage, his political views - his political illusions - had favoured the Royalists and the uprising of the Vendée. He remembered that he had composed a Coronation Ode - admittedly at a time when all the world acclaimed their popular ruler. No censorship, no halberds now! He wanted to make sure that no one could blame him one day for his past – a past marked by mistakes, certainly, but one of honest conviction and a clean conscience, free of any self-interest, just as he hoped his whole life would be judged by the world. He understood that what others could well enjoy - politically motivated success on account of the downfall of the King - was not for him; that there was no loophole for him through which he could escape from public wrath. He did what he had to do, what every honest man would have done in his place. He refused to permit his piece to be performed. He admitted that he did not go in for deliberately provoked scandal or political allusions that would ensure his success, for their effect would be of little value and of short duration. It had been his intention to portray, as truthfully as he could as an artist, King Louis XIII, not any of his descendants. And the very absence of censorship made it all the more incumbent upon authors to act as their own censors - honestly, conscientiously and with all due severity. Only in this way could they hope to uphold the dignity of their art. Those who enjoyed complete freedom were all the more obliged to practise moderation. Today, as three hundred and sixty five days separate us from the downfall of the King - three hundred and sixty five events in these eventful times; today, as the flood of public indignation has ceased to batter the crumbling ruins of Restoration, just as the sea recedes from the deserted coastline; today, when Charles X has fallen even more into oblivion than Louis XIII, the author submits his work to the public, and the public receives it from his hands in the same spirit as it is relinquished - naively, without ulterior motives, as a work of art, for better or for worse. In this age of political preoccupation, it is important, perhaps even all-important, that a literary work should be seen as just that - a product of literature." [2]

On 19 September 1998, Vigner produced VICTOR HUGO’s MARION DE LORME at the CDDB, with DAVID CLAVEL, MARYSE CUPAIOLO, RODOLPHE DANA, DAMIEN DORSAZ, NADIR LEGRAND, STÉPHANE MERCOYROL, THOMAS ROUX, JEAN-YVES RUF, FRÉDÉRIC SOLUNTO, JUTTA JOHANNA WEISS and L’ENSEMBLE MATHEUS: FRÉDÉRIC & CATHERINE MÜHLHAÜSER, STÉPHAN ELOFFE, FERNADO LAGE, AUDE VANACKERE, THIERRY RUNARVOT, STÉPHANE GOASGUEN. He started from a number of sketches that had preceded the final version of the play that came out in 1831. The first version of MARION DE LORME, which Hugo had written in 1829 at the age of 27, failed to pass censorship and was never staged until now.

"With the exception of Corneille and Racine, I have mostly staged works by contemporary authors (Duras, Sarraute, Motton, Dubillard…), and always with young actors. In 1997 I was invited to hold a workshop with students of the Ecole Nationale de Strasbourg. For this workshop I looked for an author who wrote in French, whose style was markedly ‘expressionist’ and required a fair amount of body language. With this project in mind, and at the same time recalling the productions of LUCRÈCE BORGIA and HERNANI by Antoine Vitez, I read VICTOR HUGO and discovered MARION DE LORME. As it is always enigmatic texts that set me working, this two-month project with students made me wish for more." EV

"VICTOR Hugo wanted to create a utopian form of theatre - one that strove to do both one thing and its exact opposite. The moment paradox assumes such importance in the play, you stumble over the problem of how to put it on stage. In the 19th century the prevailing quasi-naturalist form of production did not lend itself to the staging of Hugo’s plays, in which the imaginary, fantastic and symbolic dominate. This sort of theatre is so much out of the ordinary that, in our day and age, any form of staging it is bound to remain tentative, for to ‘play it all’ is impossible. What is of interest is this attempt, this tentativeness, and this is what I am interested in. One can only show how this theatre unfolds, how it writes itself - as though romantic theatre anticipated a specific form of aloofness. This theatre is one in which the spectator has to do the work: he is confronted with questions that he has to find answers to. HUGO’s theatre leaves everything wide open. He proposes one way of seeing the ancient world and what the modern world might be like, and calls upon the audience, as individuals, to seek their place somewhere in between the proposed hypotheses. It is the identity of each individual within the group that is at stake. I have to decide about my own world - all the more so since romantic theatre is one that lifts up my self, that asserts my self in freedom. This does not mean that we have to choose between the romantic and classical worlds, since the Romantics want to have it all. In this respect the story of MARION DE LORME is edifying; as I see it, she discovers her true self at the very heart of illusion, in her concrete experience of theatre as she plays Chimène. Here, theatre assumes the role of revealer of one’s conscience. In the words of Hamlet: "The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King." EV

Ah, time is passing, and the opportunity is
passing with it ! Didier, I have no right to utter a word. I am 
the sort of woman to whom one owes nothing; you have
condemned me and cursed me, and that is your right. I
deserved more than scorn and hatred, for you are too
generous, and my broken heart blesses you for it; but the
fateful hour approaches. Ah, escape while you can : if you
have forgotten it, the executioner has remembered. I have
taken all necessary steps, you may fly. Listen, do not refuse
me - do you know what it costs me to say this ? - strike me,
leave me here in my shame, spurn me with your foot,
trample on me, but make good your escape !
Escape ! What am I to escape from ? I have
nothing to escape from in the world except yourself, and I
am doing just that, for the grave will be deep enough.
Your time is nearly over.
Come ! Escape !
I do not want to ! [3]

"The words that pour forth from that shade are no longer a story but they represent something, they are something active that goes directly to the ear and imparts energy. Once drawn into the flow, the spectator no longer watches the evolution of the characters in the romantic melodrama that MARION DE LORME appeared to be at first sight: He surrenders to the voices, even imagines seeing them as they pass through the thin tulle woven of words. In reality, caught by the rhythm, scanning as though his heart were beating outside his body, the spectator discovers that action lies not in the unceasing rushing forward which eats up one’s life but in receiving, in being impregnated, in a direct face-to-face encounter, with the wind of language. What is strange - but it will appear strange only later, on reflection, not in the course of the play, at the time, not of feeling, but of understanding - what is strange is to discover that Eric Vigner has scrupulously respected the dramatic poem, verse for verse, and that this is enough to obliterate the melodrama. The book speaks softly. And the scene before one’s mental eye? Is there some reticence which makes the word wrap itself in its abstraction as though ideas did not have a place in the body? Eric Vigner’s MARION brings theatre back into the mouth, even places it on the tongue: there, quite naturally, the word unveils itself and the unfolding of syllable after syllable creates in us a rawness that makes all that fetters us fall away… " 

For a year MARION DE LORME tours large parts of France and is notably presented at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris throughout January 1999.

[1] VICTOR HUGO, MARION DE LORME, 1831, Acte I, Scene 1, Translated by WILLIAM D. HOWARTH, Methuen Drama 2004
[2] VICTOR HUGO, Preface MARION DE LORME, 1831, Acte I, Scene 1, Translated by HERBERT KAISER
[3] VICTOR HUGO, MARION DE LORME, 1831, Acte V, Scène 7, Translated by WILLIAM D. HOWARTH, Methuen Drama 2004


© Photography : Alain Fonteray
Texts assembled by Jutta Johanna Weiss
Translation from the French by Herbert Kaiser
© CDDB-Théâtre de Lorient