Saturday, 1 December 2018
REVIEW: Submission - HOME, Manchester
Part of Home's 'France Now' season, 'Submission' was another sampling of contemporary work from the French cultural scene. It was based on the novel of the same name by Michel Houellebecq who is known as a "pop star author".
Houellebecq has been praised and condemned for his critique on topical social and political issues. His written reflections are known to be educational but sometimes cynical and nihilist. Novels such as 'Platform' and 'The Possibility Of An Island' elevated his reputation, taking on the role of a provocative social critic of modern western life.
Teunkie van der Sluijs has adapted and directed Houellebecq's latest novel, Submission for the stage. Presented to the audience was a synthesis of real and fictional characters with numerous recent historical events and imagined future scenarios. Here we had a twisted and provocative representation of Islam and other beliefs. According to the programme notes, Houellebecq was not targeting Islam, but in the conventions of French satire, it was a rebellious and darkly comic look at the lack of faith and meaning in western society. Adding another layer of commentary to this already vexing novel was Houellebecq's pro-patriarchal views and his misogynistic perspective on women.
So the next question is why was I watching a performance about something so distasteful and offensive? It''s important to note this contemporary performance did not assume a political angle on any of the issues explored in the novel. Effectively, it was neither advocating or denouncing Houellebecq's viewpoints. It simply asked the audience the question: what do you make of this? In the process, we became aware of the controversial opinions that are still woven into the fabric of our modern day society.
It felt like we had arrived at a conference: on stage were two lecterns and three microphones. A projection screen in the background conveyed the names of different characters throughout the narrative and video footage of political protests and riots. There was a comment here on how we consume politics through the media and televised political debates. But, here's the rub' the audience already know that's how we engage with politics. What other ideas are at play here? That's not clear to me.
The central problem with this performance was that if it were trying to be engaging and thought provoking (you'd assume so) this theatrical interpretation of the novel contradicted that. Essentially, you had this gigantic wave of political information, issues, and glossary terms including dozens of "isms", while all the while you tried to follow the story too. It asked a lot of the audience in the approximate eighty minute running time. Even if this was somehow intentional it simply didn't work because you became easily distracted and disengaged to the point where you just didn't care about what was going on anymore. A risky and bold interpretation that did not pay off.
Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 30/11/18
photo credit - Thomas Bartherote