Edinburgh International Festival review: Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (Aurores), Lowland Hall

Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (Aurores)

Théâtre du Soleil’s debut production at the Edinburgh International Festival is a coup de theatre, writes Mark Brown

The first ever Edinburgh International Festival production by the great French company Théâtre du Soleil promised to be an unforgettable event. And so it proved.

The brainchild of Théâtre du Soleil’s founder and director Ariane Mnouchkine, Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (Aurores) [The Castaways of the Fol Espoir (Sunrises)] takes its inspiration from a posthumous novel by Jules Verne. Incorporating writing by the outstanding author and philosopher Hélène Cixous and devised collectively by an extraordinary ensemble, it is an absolutely enthralling four hours of theatre.

It’s 1914, and visionary, socialist filmmaker Jean LaPalette has left the famous film production company Pathé following irreconcilable artistic and political differences. Thanks to the generosity of eccentric restaurateurand film enthusiast Félix Courage, LaPalette is now making his movie of Verne’s novel about the utopian vision of shipwreck survivors in the former dancehall above the restaurant.

LaPalette believes that his film will strike a powerful blow for education, peace and humanity. Try as he might, however, he cannot keep rumblings of impending war from infiltrating his makeshift movie studio. The contending forces of sabre-rattling imperialism and socialist internationalism are a constant backdrop to the artistic endeavours of the director and his company.

With breathtaking virtuosity, energy, timing and commitment, the 29-strong ensemble stages the making of the film before our very eyes. We see the sometimes brilliantly ingenious, sometimes hilariously slapdash techniques of early cinema. There is great comedy in the exaggerated physical performance of the silent movie, but also a need for speed and physical precision on the part of the film’s cast and crew which requires of the actors the skills of both farce and gymnastics.

Beautifully costumed on an immense set (too large for any conventional Edinburgh stage, and, so, constructed in the huge Lowland Hall in Ingliston), Les Naufragés achieves an extremely rare combination of entertainment and intellectual stimulation, comedy and tragedy. A mammoth task, produced and performed to near perfection, it has its historical and political cake and it eats it. Merci Théâtre du Soleil, your first visit to the Edinburgh Festival is, quite simply, a coup de théâtre.

Lowland Hall, Ingliston, 0131 473 2000, until August 28, 6pm, £35 & £30

This review was originally published on the website of The List on August 24, 2012

© Mark Brown


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