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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | May 9, 2018

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Madeleines and Memory in 'Souvenir'

Madeleines and Memory in ‘Souvenir’

| On 09, Sep 2016

The novel Remembrance of Things Past, by French writer Marcel Proust, is often cited as the longest ever written –published at the turn of the century, it comprises seven volumes. Dublin-based theatre company and Brisbane Festival artists-in-residence Dead Centre have managed the daunting task of turning this monument of literature into a sleek, 55-minute stage show. Luckily, they have a little help, bringing on Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Bruce Springsteen and a goldfish.

Souvenir first premiered at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2012, and has since toured the world. Writer/director Moukarzel said the unlikely choice of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past for a stage adaptation appealed to him because despite its reputation as a literary masterpiece, few people have read it in its entirety.

“That gives us a huge amount of creative freedom, to condense and cut chunks out of it. He was a great writer but would go on for ages about the colour of someone’s hair and stuff like that, so we can skip over all that and focus on the important things…he says a lot of meaningful things about how we view memory and our relationship to each other, whether we can ever truly love someone, and the importance of art and the artistic process. The purists are always going to be like, ‘That’s not how it went in the book’, but we’re not too worried about them because there’s always only one that’s read it at each show.”

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“Creating a show like this as well, I feel like there’s really no more fresh ideas in art. The new thing in making theatre and any kind of art is to use existing works, and change and adapt them to create this web of references…borrowing all these bits and pieces to make a new and unique piece. That’s a really interesting and challenging thing to explore.”

At its heart, this one-man hour of controlled chaos is a meta-commentary on the nature of memory, the creative process and our own mortality. A highlight is the innovative spin put on the famous ‘episode of the madeleine’, Proust’s meditation on the nature of involuntary memory. It spans centuries and genres, eventually transcending them in a frenzied, existentialist fit.

Stephen Dodd’s lighting faced some opening night glitches, but are mostly effective. The set, created by designers Andrew Clancy and Florence McHugh, is unlike any other I’ve ever seen – a chaotic, tumbledown treasure chest of paper and cardboard, allowing Moukarzel to produce props seemingly from nowhere. The true highlight, however, is Moukarzel’s incredible performance – at once intensely physical but finely attuned to the neurotic, nihilist inner life of Proust’s narrator. Alone on stage for an hour, he never lets the energy flag or the strain show.

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This is the first of Dead Centre’s three shows to be performed at the Brisbane Festival, and although Souvenir closes with a reminder to the audience that every hour of our life is one we will never get back, when it’s this enjoyable, you don’t really mind.

WHEN 6 – 10 September; 7.30pm

WHERE Theatre Republic – QUT Creative Industries, La Boite Studio

HOW MUCH Adults $25; Concession $20. Purchase tickets here.

Images: Brisbane Festival