09 Jan “It’s Only the End of the World” at Uppsala City Theatre – a powerful account of the illusion of the nuclear family
By Rosemari Södergren
Published: December 4, 2016
”It’s Only the End of the World”
By Jean-Luc Lagarce
Translation: Andreas Bodegård
Director: Anja Suša
Dramaturgist: Marie Persson Hedenius
Set Design & Costume: Ulla Kassius
Assistent scene and costume designer: Hedvig Ljungar
Light design: Mats Öhlin
Make-up and wig design: Johanna Rönnbäck, Ella Carlefalk (trainee from STDH)
Original music: Igor Gostuski
Choreography: Damjan Kecojević
Swedish premiere at Uppsala City Theatre, Small Scene, December 3, 2016
There is no defence against Jean-Luc Lagarce’s “It’s Only the End of the World”. It is a powerful settlement against the false ideals of the nuclear family. Louis comes back home to visit his family, which he has not seen in over ten years. He is ill and knows that he is going to die soon, and he believes or hopes that he will be able to meet his nearest kin. He dreams those false dreams, which we are constantly lured into by society, about how blood and family ties are, after all, that which we belong to and a place where we are loved.
Louis does not get an opportunity to tell about his death sentence. All the members of his family are occupied with their own problems and fears, nobody is prepared to listen to him, and everybody takes it for granted that he sees himself as superior to them. Louis has, of course, succeeded as a writer, while they just go on living their ordinary, working class lives. Each one of them is caught in their own life grieves and nobody is open to listen to what Louis may have to say. Nobody is even open to the idea that Louis may have something to say.
It is an extremely terrifying and dark take on the confined family life. Louis family is a normal one, nobody of its members has social problems or addictions – it is precisely such a family that is hailed as the meaning of life. I almost get a stomach ache from how accurately this production depicts our endless human loneliness and the bluff of family love. It is, however, at the same time liberating to see that somebody was able to describe it so accurately.
The fact that this drama premieres in the middle of Christmas preparations in Sweden is precisely what hits the spot. Christmas that is celebrated in the West as a grand family holiday is nothing more than one big illusion. This production does not mention Christmas, nor does it contain anything Christmas-like, it is I who is drawing this parallel. Christmas, as it is celebrated in the West, is a time of great anxiety for all of those who lost their near and dear – because it is at Christmas time that we should meet our next of kin and are expected to feel the family love.
But is it really there? Does it really exist, when so many are left lonely and out of it all? When families get together and do not allow any outsiders in, how loving is it then, if it is enough just for themselves? The family in “It’s Only the End of the World” is joined together more by a habit and cowardice, since the members do not dare go outside of this circle, then by some special kind of love – in fact, nobody there listens to anybody else. This is powerfully depicted and conveyed in Anja Suša’s production.
We celebrate Christmas because Jesus was born – and his birth is perhaps far from the traditional Christmas nuclear family. His father Joseph is not his biological father, Jesus was born in a stable because his mother and father were forced to leave for Bethlehem, in order to be accounted for and pay their taxes, since they had their roots there. This means we can assume that they had relatives there. Relatives who did not welcome them. They had to seek shelter in a stable, and the shepherds, who must have been seen as some sort of an underclass, were the first who welcomed this newborn baby. Then came foreign men from other countries, with different culture and religion, and celebrated the little one – and then the parents had to flee to a foreign country with the child. This is fairly far from the holy nuclear family that Christmas is dedicated to in modern Sweden. Although Jean-Luc Lagarce does not in any way refer to the false Christmas celebration, my opinion is that his powerful, dark drama can be applied to Christmas in the highest possible degree.
This production is played in a way that is almost impossible to describe – body language and speech are far from naturalistic, they are some sort of a dance-like mime – it must be seen. The physical way in which this drama is played speaks to me as the spectator through many different channels, with feelings, with language, with body language, with mime, with sound. Uppsala City Theatre describes in the following way:
From the perspective of Louis, we get to participate in a different kind of a reunion. This production tests the theatrical limits with its poetic wordiness and does not resemble anything that has previously been played on the Small scene.
Jean-Luc Lagarce is today one of the most performed modern playwrights in France and is widely recognized as one of the most important French dramatists of the late 20th century. There are presumably quite a lot of his personal experiences in this drama. He himself died before the play had its premiere. After his death in 1995, the interest in his work picked up and his plays were set up on stage, debated on and translated in wider and wider circles. During his lifetime, Lagarce was first and foremost known as a director and his productions of plays by Molière, Ionescu and Marivaux achieved great success. Only a few of his own plays were put on stage during his lifetime – “It’s Only the End of the World” was performed for the first time in 1999, that is to say, four years after Lagarce’s death.
French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan has made a film based on this play. His version of “It’s Only the End of the World” premiered in May 2016 at Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prix.