“I’m homosexual. How and why are idle questions. It’s a little like wanting to know why my eyes are green”.
French novelist, playwright and poet Jean Genet was born in Paris on December 19, 1910. Abandoned by his parents, he spent much of his youth in an institution for juvenile delinquents. At the age of ten, he was accused of stealing. Although innocent of the charge, having been described as a thief, the young boy resolved to be a thief.
“Thus,” wrote Genet, “I decisively repudiated a world that had repudiated me.”
Inspired by his story, Thief, is a brand spanking new piece of theatre exploring the transience of beauty that will premiere at the Brighton Fringe May 13- 18th, before transferring to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.
It’s said to be a dark and challenging play, not for the easily offended. We like to take that as a challenge.
Written and directed by Liam Rudden, whose past works include the sell-out Silence In Court (Edinburgh Fringe 20011 & 2013), the award winning Cock And Bull Story (Edinburgh Fringe 2011) and Killers (5 stars Brighton Argus) at last year’s Brighton Fringe, Thief promises to be an intimate piece of immersive theatre which allows the audience a more personal experience, without a fourth wall breaking the barrier between them and performer .
Matt Robertson as Sailor; photo credit Bill Mackellar
Of the show Liam says:
“Thief was never going to be an easy play to write, nor will it necessarily be easy to watch. Consequently, the reaction, so far, from the few who have read it has been so welcome.
“It’s about Sailor, a victim who refuses to see himself as that, who fights back. Sailor has been abused all his life. At 27 however, he is now in control of the circumstances that created the ‘monster’ he has become. At least that’s what he believes.
“Sailor is a man struggling to maintain his last ounce of humanity and self-respect, while doing what it takes to survive the brutal underworld of civilised society. His ethos of subverting accepted moral behaviour and self-expression is drawn loosely from the works and life of Jean Genet.
“Set in a timeless world of dockside taverns and the cobbled shadowlands of foggy ports, the story charts one man’s survival. A squalid survival some still find themselves embracing even now, as much as society would like to deny that is the case.
Importantly, however, Thief has no message. It’s there to provoke thought and discussion and hopefully, entertain, albeit on an extremely dark level.”
Between 1930 and 1940, Genet wandered through various European countries, living as a thief and male prostitute.
Eventually, he found himself in Hitler’s Germany where he felt strangely out of place. “I had a feeling of being in a camp of organized bandits. This is a nation of thieves, I felt. If I steal here, I accomplish no special act that could help me to realize myself. I merely obey the habitual order of things. I do not destroy it.” So Genet hastened on to a country that still obeyed a more conventional moral code.
In 1943, after being imprisoned for theft, he began writing. Ignoring traditional plot and psychology, his plays rely heavily on ritual, transformation, illusion and interchangeable identities.
His experiences in prison would inform much of his work. The homosexuals, prostitutes, thiefs and outcasts of his plays are trapped in self-destructive circles. They express the despair and loneliness of a man caught in a maze of mirrors, trapped by an endless progression of images that are, in reality, merely his own distorted reflection.
Genet’s first dramatic effort is a poignant examination of the oppressed and the oppressor. In Deathwatch he experiments with a murderer in the role of hero. The play revolves around three inmates who struggle for domination of a prison cell while an unseen fourth prisoner watches on.
In his next play; The Maids, Genet portrays a ritualistic act of two maids who take turns acting as “Madame,” abusing each other as either servant or employer. The ceremony reveals not only the maids’ hatred of the Madame’s authority, but also their hatred of themselves for participating in the hierarchy that oppresses them.
First staged at a private club in London because it was considered too scandalous for Paris audiences, The Balcony is set in a brothel of “nobel dimensions,” a palace of illusions in which men can indulge their secret fantasies, perhaps as a judge inflicting punishment on a beautiful thief, or as a dying Foreign Legionaire being succoured by a beautiful Arab maiden. But outside the brothel, the country is caught up in the throes of revolution, and these false roles become confused with the real roles of “bishop,” “judge” and “general” until nothing is certain.
In The Blacks, a troupe of ‘coloured’ actors enacts before a jury of white-masked blacks the ritualistic murder of a white of which they have been accused. The last of Genet’s plays to be produced during his lifetime, The Screens, is his comment on the Algerian revolution.
Like all of Genet’s works, these plays are grotesque, sometimes bewildering, savage, and haunting. Simultaneously cultivating and denouncing the stage illusion, they exude a strange ritualistic, incantatory quality that successfully transforms life into a series of ceremonies and rituals that bring stability to an otherwise unbearable existence.
Thief plays Brighton’s Marlborough Theatre May 13TH -18TH
Tickets can be bought online at http://www.brightonfringe.org
And of course, if you get to see it before we do, let us know your thoughts!