A writer imagines herself, as a lecturer, imagining herself as Catherine Deneuve, contemplating an intimate relationship with a female student, and the frailty of desire – how would it be done, if she were Catherine Deneuve.
Arts House presents the premiere of Irony Is Not Enough: essay on my life as Catherine Deneuve, a new work from Fragment31 based on the writing of Canadian poet, essayist academic and intellectual Anne Carson who began her career as a classicist, with particular interest in classical Greek texts. Carson’s interest in relating classical literature to a contemporary context led to a fascination with the concept of translation.
“Translation is a big thing in Carson’s work,” says Leisa Shelton in a recent interview with Beat Magazine – Shelton is one-fifth of performance collective Fragment 31. “To Carson, translation is more than a literal translation. Language has certain rules and qualities, and it’s those rules and qualities that we’re using in the performance.”
Irony Is Not Enough: essay on my life as Catherine Deneuve weaves images and lines from key Deneuve films alongside Anne Carson’s essay of the same name. Taken from her collection of short works Men in the Off Hours, the essay draws on Carson’s background as a translator and lecturer of the classics, using an imagined dialogue between the Greek philosophers Sappho and Socrates to form a complex web of interrogation.
Performance collective Fragment31 was formed when signature artists Anna Cordingley, Luke Mullins, Leisa Shelton and Jethro Woodward collaborated on Mullins’ solo performance Autobiography of Red, another project inspired by the writing of Anne Carson that premiered at the Malthouse Theatre in 2006. Jen Hector then joined the collective in 2009.
“I read of all of her work,” Shelton says. “Because of the time on that project I got more interested in Anne Carson’s books and essays. There is no much in it that it actually becomes something of a quest. That show (Autobiography of Red) went really well. It was on the back of that that we consolidated our partnership. You don’t see shelves and shelves of Anne Carson’s work, but the contingent of Anne Carson readers are very positive. And with Autobiography of Red we had a lot of people come along, and they really liked what we were doing.”
Shelton’s interest in this project derives from both Carson’s unique literary style, and the ideas explored in the essay itself. “Because it’s not written as a novel or verse. And the idea behind it is fascinating – that one way to fulfill your desire is to create another persona. The writing itself is raw and visceral. The complexity of layers in the essay is tantalizing.”
“When we think of Catherine Deneuve we think of her as an image – we know very little about her personally. She always belonged to someone else – to Polanski, to Vadim – and it’s the part of her character that Carson taps into. In the live performance the five members of Fragment 31 are “involved in different aspects of figurative language. The performance itself utilizes the techniques of cinema to translate Carson’s essay to a live setting. The work is performed in a filmic style, rather than a theatrical style. The performance using filmic language and techniques – including the use of lighting – to go from a perfectly realized moment to a wider context."
“We are working with Responsive Performance Practice, where there is no director or single voice, but simply artists creating work in response to one another and the text. It is an act of translation as opposed to adaptation or interpretation. And by this we mean, translation in its purest form, from one language to another, from literature to the language of theatre. The elements in each performance of Irony Is Not Enough: essay on my life as Catherine Deneuve will be live, so every audience will have a unique experience. This, for us, is the excitement of working in live theatre.”
Irony is Not Enough plays at the Arts House November 2010.