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Men Without Shadows

HOBO COLLECTIVE presents MEN WITHOUT SHADOWS by Jean-Paul Satre, translation by Kitty Black in the Parade Studio, Kensington.

MEN WITHOUT SHADOWS (MORTS SANS SEPULTURES) was written by Jean-Paul Satre in 1946. The play is set in 1944 and concerns the capture of five french resistors after a failed action against the Vichy-occupying forces. Awaiting interview by their capturers these young people discuss what they will or won’t do or say under the pressure of torture. The three interrogators, similarly, discuss throughout the proceedings what pressures they should apply.

Satre’s philosophic musings and theories are aired throughout the proceedings: “The meaning of man’s life is not established before his existence. Once the terrible freedom is acknowledged (free will), man has to make this meaning himself, has to commit himself to a role in this world, has to commit his freedom…”. All these people, in this play, will give meaning to their lives through the choice of what they do or say on this day of testing. They will commit to a role in this world: hero or coward.

In this production, produced by a fledgling company of young artists, the HOBO COLLECTIVE, under the Direction of Hendrick Elstein, John Turnbull playing Landrieu, the senior leader of the government forces, gives the most complex performance of the evening. The philosophic underpinnings of his character is subtly and deftly embodied in a composed and detailed naturalistic characterisation. The demands and struggles of his conscience are expressed in a passionate physical and emotional mask. The humanity of Landrieu’s dilemma in all of its ambiguities is movingly communicated. He is neither admirable or totally despicable, but his actions give a meaning to his life.

It is Mr Turnbull’s performance that throws into relief the relative problem of the other actors’ work. The arguments, intellectual intentions of Satre’s play are the principal pre-occupation of the rest of the company. This debate is more or less clear, but not always, throughout the playing time

The reality of the situation that Satre has constructed about this discussion: the torture, murders and rapes, the given circumstances of the situation, are so superficially acknowledged by the prisoner actors that a coolness and disengagement with the possible power of the play becomes the consequent experience of the night. That Sorbier (Carl Batchelor) returns from torture that we have heard being brutally inflicted, muffled screams down the hall way, without visible consequences of any import; that Lucie (Tami Sussman) returns to the classroom after rape and torture without revealed physical or psychological consequences of any communicated clues (it was a surprise to learn later that this is what Lucie had experienced at the hands of the interrogators); that the breaking of the wrist of Henri (Sam O’Sullivan) in front of our eyes has such little force of crunching bones and aggravated nerves, reduces the action of the play to an artificial philosophic disquisition. Drama is substituted for intellectual discussion. One is relatively unmoved by what transpires in the play. In these modern days of war and civil war, that should not be so.

The simple design (Jasmine Christie) set in an abandoned school, serves as two spaces, one for the prisoners and one for the captors. The lighting, one room dim and one bright, is the principle demarcation, of the difference. That the captors space is the brighter lit maybe some reason why this part of the play had more identification and impact. The lighting in the prisoner’s space was so low that it was not easy to identify them or empathise.

The production is neat and moves smoothly forward. However, it lacks human drama. It respects Satre the philosopher but diminishes the Satre dramatist.