They're waiting for the audience, ostensibly without any worry. We are their guests. For Nusch, after Paul Eluard, we climbed to the first floor of Théâtre de la Bastille to sit around a big table in a small group of only about thirty people. Frank Vercruyssen chose some of the country wines he knows, whose characteristics he enumerated while pouring a glass for each of us. This table was a dancing stage for Liz Kinoshita, later for Linda Blomqvist. An extraordinary moment filled with heady poetry. Strindberg's Mademoiselle Else was performed in the main auditorium with only Alma Palacios and the author of this trilogy about couples, love and the pain it brings – Frank Vercruyssen, of course.

Now we're happy to have this wonderful artist of the Flemish company tg STAN back among us. He performs year after year on big stages, often in this theatre where the company is very much at home. A grey-beige curtain, reminiscent of Brecht. Against the wall on the right side – stage left – a long trestle table. A coffeemaker, bottles, crockery, etc. All of these are objects that the characters will use during the performance. They also move the scenery pieces themselves. Chairs, table, armchair. To the left – stage right – a lamp that brings some intimacy into the vast space.

But of course none of this ostensible serenity is to be trusted. Here the result seems all the more relaxed as it's been fine-tuned up to the quavering voices and fumbled lines.

After the forty-five minutes of Eluard's poem and Strindberg's solid hour and a half, we settle in for quite the longer haul with Scènes de la vie conjugale (Scenes from a Marriage), after Ingmar Bergman's film. But the play, only interrupted by a short interval, is over in the blink of an eye. These two and a half hours are both fascinating and baffling. tg STAN's genius is displayed in its full paradoxical force. The actors, Frank Vercruyssen and Ruth Vega Fernandez, simultaneously stand aloof – through a string of comments, talking to the audience, calling it to witness – and establish a highly troubling proximity. That's the miracle of this faithful and free adaptation of Bergman's text and of this awe-inspiring performance. We're emphatically at the theatre and, at the same time, we completely forget the theatre and we wonder if the actors are telling us about the characters or about themselves.

Dazzling intelligence

The irony without any conceit pervading this work is irresistible. There's a quite corrosive humour, particularly in the depiction of the man. Besides, if there's a common thread between all these texts it's that of women's destiny, of their proud courage, their unwillingness to compromise, their way of confronting love's and men's cruelty. It already was the case in Bergman's work ; here's it's the theme of the trilogy.

We've always been dazzled by tg STAN's intelligence, whether the company was performing Thomas Bernhard or Denis Diderot. With Bergman the company works a subject matter onto which everyone may project oneself unreservedly. And one guesses at a few choked-down sobs among the laughter.

Ruth Vega Fernandez, a beautiful, soft-voiced and slender brunette with deep eyes, is very attractive and hits the right tone in despair as well as when taking the offensive. Frank Vercruyssen, bald and weary at times, depicts the character's acts of cowardice with his distinctive melancholy-infused delight. A truly great performer.

Le Figaro et vous, 14 February 2014

 

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