REVIEW / THEATRE
Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort
School of the Arts auditorium
God, so the Bible goes, created the heavens and Earth within seven days.
The ensemble cast of Germinal, which is French for "germinate" or "sprout", tried to approximate that feat within 75 minutes.
The play's co-creator and co-director Halory Goerger and his jeans-and-T-shirt posse of Beatriz Setien, Denis Robert and Jean-Baptiste Delannoy did so by, ironically, wrecking their black-box-like set to uncover clues as to how early human beings figured their way to self-awareness, making friends and getting on with everyone else.
The curtain went up, stalled and went up again amid surges and ebbs of light, suggesting the random pangs of birth.
The audience then encountered the ensemble trying to read one another's thoughts off four panels on the backdrop, on which English surtitles to this French play were also displayed throughout.
Setien then lammed into the set's floorboards with a pick-axe, unearthing a microphone, with which they learnt how to converse with one another and share; a guitar, with which they crooned discordantly; and an amplifier, with which they jostled for importance.
Slowly but surely, they bumbled towards defining ideas for their created world, including "tenderness" and "karmic vibrations". For further clues, they turned to a "manual" from the hole Setien had dug, which turned out to be a laptop with Windows installed. How the audience laughed when the cast oohed and ahhed at its default screensaver of a green hill against blue sky, as if they were in the very presence of Mother Nature.
But when their fun with Windows' pull-down menus triggered a burst of broccoli-like creatures from under the stage, fear set in and they proceeded with great caution.
Then, inexplicably, they wished for a swamp - suggesting, perhaps, that corruption had crept into their world - which materialised when the actors lifted floorboard slabs to reveal a pit full of styrofoam chips, deep enough for the petite Delannoy to dive into. The four were soon cavorting about in the pit as if it were a jacuzzi. Kudos to set builders Christian Allamano, Cedric Ravier and Danny Vandeput for their trove of surprises.
It was all very clever - sometimes too clever by half, perhaps. When, for instance, the cast contacted a call-centre worker for a "starter pack" of the laws of physics and thermodynamics, they did so without having yet invented money. And what world were they creating, exactly, if they already had such sophisticated equipment at their disposal?
Such gaps in logic made it hard to suspend one's disbelief, even for a play as experimental as this. There was also little dramatic tension throughout from the well-tempered cast.
No matter. The audience lapped up the quartet's sweet, gentle wit, often laughing out loud, especially when they categorised everything they encountered as being either "poc poc" (what they heard whenever they knocked on hard surfaces) or "pas poc poc" ("pas" being French for "not").
Goerger and Antoine Defoort's highly inventive play is now an international cult hit and the Singapore International Festival of Arts' team is to be congratulated for bringing their mental, if head- scratching, acrobatics here.