From the stage, before the start of the performance, the two actors – Ruth Vega Fernandez and Frank Vercruyssen – play the attentive host and hostess, pointing out available seats to latecomers, enquiring if everyone is sitting comfortably.

That informality is kept up all through the performance: several times, particularly – but not exclusively – during scene changes, one of them steps out of character to wonder out loud about his or her costume or makeup, to call the audience's attention to forgotten lines or a ridiculous posture. This roaming back and forth between real life and the theatre, the character and the actor, is a trademark of the Belgian collective tg STAN. At the risk of getting tedious sometimes, whenever this technique stands in for genuine dramaturgical work.

For Scènes de la vie conjugale, after the TV series written and directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1973, it works all the better as the audience is invited into Marianne and Johan's drawing room or bedroom and is assigned the double part of Peeping Tom and close friend of the couple. The husband and wife's downward spiral follows a well-established path, from an exemplary love match to a divorce, with adultery and a spiteful clash along the way. Frank Vercruyssen has cut all other characters out of his adaptation, with the exception of a couple of friends, Katarina and Peter. They're present by means of a short film, the re-enactment of a dinner with the four of them that ends badly. Vercruyssen did keep the six-episode structure, but shortened each segment.

If the result is successful, it's because the performers, while acting out quite sincerely the psychological sitcom, also make fun of Bergman's cruelty towards his characters and provide the audience with an evening that's more disturbing than was expected. Scènes de la vie conjugale is the final part of tg STAN's series of three fittingly staged intimate performances at Bastille.

Libération, 15/16 February 2014

 

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