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After criticism of Isabelle Huppert, the theater director speaks of “a slip-up”

The recent questioning of Isabelle Huppert by a spectator in a Parisian theater questions the attitude of the audience during a play and their complex reactions to confusing and even transgressive stagings.

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After criticism of Isabelle Huppert, the theater director speaks of “a slip-up”

The recent questioning of Isabelle Huppert by a spectator in a Parisian theater questions the attitude of the audience during a play and their complex reactions to confusing and even transgressive stagings.

In recent weeks, the star actress played Bérénice, a key figure in Racine's repertoire, at the Sarah Bernhardt theater. During one of the performances, a man addressed her and said: “We don’t understand what you’re saying, Isabelle.” The actress nevertheless continued. Between Isabelle Huppert's fans and the Racine audience, the tone rose until they left the theater.

Romeo Castellucci is known for his divisive proposals, often far removed from the original text. This time, he decided to only repeat Bérénice's monologues, with tirades where the voice is sometimes modified by computer or marked by voluntary stuttering, AFP noted.

“Since the end of the 19th century, the norm has tended to be respect for the work and the artists. Silence is therefore required and public demonstrations postponed until the end of the show,” recalls Alice Folco, lecturer in performing arts at the University of Grenoble. However, puts Florence Naugrette, professor of theater history and theory at La Sorbonne, into perspective, “the theater, precisely, is a place where actors expose themselves. This is what makes them so vulnerable, even when they are very well known.

“Live performance, by definition, includes this risk: we are afraid for a dancer that he will fall and for an actor, that he will have a memory lapse or be arrested. A show where there is no longer this risk, it’s no longer theater, it’s cinema,” she adds. Isabelle Huppert was “not disturbed at all”, assures AFP the director of the Sarah Bernhardt Theater, Emmanuel Demarcy-Motta, referring to a “slippage” emanating from an “isolated person”.

According to him, such an incident only happened once in around twenty performances. But it is “important to prevent any form of self-censorship, both for the artist, who would be afraid of being questioned, and for the public who would like Racine to be returned to them and artistic forms to be censored. not corresponding to what he had expected to see.

A position assumed by Romeo Castellucci. In 2019, he told AFP that “we do not go to the theater, to the opera, to see what we already know confirmed”, however refusing the term “provocation”. These reactions can “join the indignation which seizes part of the public when we touch the classics since the 1960s”, whether “in the criticism (literary, editor’s note) and in the productions”, suggests Olivier Goetz, master of conferences in theater studies at the University of Lorraine.

These public demonstrations are, however, not new, underlines Jean-Claude Yon, theater historian and director of studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. “Since the 17th century in France, the theater has been an arena where artists expect reactions from the audience.” It was only “at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that the public calmed down, at the moment when theater became an activity reserved for a certain elite,” he says, explaining that this coincides with “the moment when it starts to get dark in the room”.

The incidents do not prejudge the success of a work: Bérénice was quickly “completely sold out” and went on an international tour before being reprized in Paris “next season, because there is very strong demand”, announced Mr. Demarcy-Motta.

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