Richard, Professor of Literature

Canberra Critics Circle – April 6, 2013
By Frank McKone

Georis, visiting from Belgium, clearly works out of the French mime tradition and the European background of puppetry (which in England is represented by Punch and Judy). I remember a puppet version of Blanc Neige for children in Paris some decades ago. Somewhere there’s a memory of commedia dell’arte in Georis’ style as a comedian, as well.

I could say, street theatre at The Street rather than in the street 🙂

The role of Richard, Professor (as in Professeur) of Literature is played by Georis as if he is not acting, but merely a person talking directly to us – and interacting with the front row of the audience – out of role. I’ve called him Professeur rather than Professor because his “lecture” on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard III, is more in the style of a teacher of younger children than as a university academic.

But this is not a children’s show, though I would certainly recommend it for senior secondary students. It deals with death as failure, death for love, and death for power. It begins with the question “To be, or not to be” as an intellectual study of angst, works through the tragic sadness of the Montague and Capulet story, becoming gross in the gore of chopping up fresh meat to represent the Lancaster and Plantagenet families’ murderous history.

The lesson’s conclusion is “Why don’t we just stop the killing?”

Yet, to reach this conclusion, Richards uses his books, newspapers, cooking implements and ingredients (I could call this “kitchen bench drama”) to create the characters of Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet – and finally a piece of meat for Richard III, while he himself travels from point to point in time and space on a motorbike (or rather on a Vespa motor scooter as I imagined it). As well, the Professor wears hats and masks, playing himself and William Shakespeare – every now and then revealing himself to remind us “it’s me”, like playing peek-a-boo.

So we are at times a bit embarrassed by his childishness, yet we can’t stop laughing at his ridiculousness – and not can we ignore his message: don’t take things or ourselves too seriously, for that’s how we end up killing people.

I can only agree with the quote in the program notes from Ouest-France reviewing Richard, le polichineur d’écritoire, de Stephane Georis: “ingenious, full of surprises and screamingly funny.” Just watch his upside-down coffee pot tell you about Life, and you’ll see what I mean.