Which historical personality would you invite out for a coffee and why?
Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Because her life was marked by the intertwinement of historical events, since her fate played out in the last royalist gasps against the red backdrop of the French Revolution. Because she was crowned Queen to a people she did not understand. Because her brother’s (Joseph II) words: “The revolution will be a cruel one, and perhaps of your own making,” came true. Her story is the intersection of the stories of European history, the French Revolution and the fate of a woman who wanted to live her life away from the royal ceremonies and the court etiquette. Her secret life gave rise to numerous stories and gossip about her. She was called Madame Veto, Petite Rousse, Madame Deficite, Louve Autrichienne, Reine Martyre … But who exactly was and is Marie Antoinette?
The encounter with her reveals her image, the reasons for her actions, her personal troubles and joys as we see them today from a 200-year time distance. Many things seem to have changed, but in reality they have not. Marie Antoinette lived and ruled at a time when various ideologies mixed, when the system – as is the case today – did not manage to accumulate itself. Are we, too, then in need of a revolution? Perhaps a revolution of the spirit? Perhaps she – Marie Antoinette – can explain a lot with her historical example, having lived and ruled at a time when the system was no longer able to sustain itself and it simply blew. And everything came to light.
A theatre event or an event in the theatre?
The Marie Antoinette project eludes all theoretical definitions regarding its form and genre. We could characterise it as a theatre or multimedia event, but it can definitely not be placed solely in the categories of a pop event, event or theatre in the classical sense. In this project, Matej Filipčič walks on the edge, playing with theatre form, crossing it with the television genre of a talk show. What edge does he walk on? On the edge of theatre or on the edge of a commercial event that, in this case, has not been commissioned by anyone, that is, it has been commissioned by the author of the project himself? Is this the edge of art or the edge of entertainment? Perhaps it is the edge of risk? The decision for such a realisation of the project, which the author at first conceived as a monodrama about the last Queen of France, proceeds from the topic and the material itself.
Marie Antoinette was a pop icon of her period a long time before the exploitation of pop and the invention of concepts such as the society of the spectacle, representation, medialisation, etc. Her perfected look, which can be termed styling in the contemporary language of fashion, was manifested both in her fancy and every day different gowns as well as her lifestyle, the chosen free-time activities and her stance to the world. Against the backdrop of the events of the 18th century, which brought essential changes to the political system in France by way of the notorious French Revolution, her image resonated in public and, at the same time, also strongly antagonized it. This can be seen in numerous newspapers articles, cartoons and the nicknames she was given. The books and later the films about her tried to present her in the most various perspectives that additionally underscored one or the other dimension of her constructed image. We are interested in who and what all was and still is Marie Antoinette and in the manipulation of her image in her time, throughout history and at present.
Filipčič’s Marie Antoinette also cannot avoid creating a construct of a historical personality, but it tries to move away from the unequivocal, black-and-white depiction and the representation of her personality through a narrow prism of a realistic historical perspective, which is only partly reliable due to the unpreserved sources. Alongside the necessary reading of Stefan Zweig, Evelyne Lever, Caroline Weber and other authors who have shed light on Marie Antoinette and her age from the most various aspects, Filipčič thus relies on his own artistic intuition and bravely places the last Queen of France in the present time. Through the form of a talk show, which offers the possibility of communicating information directly in the form of questions and answers, Marie Antoinette of the 21st century can speak with the experience of the 18th century, which enthroned her as the most famous Queen of France of all times, turning her from a historical personality into a myth.
Marie Antoinette is a guest on a talk show hosted by Darja Zgonc, who is given the role of a performer. She performs in the same way as in front of the cameras when anchoring a news show, thus adding a documentary stamp to the event. Marko Mandić in the role of Marie Antoinette also performs in a similar way as he does on stage, introducing into the event “multi-temporality” and perhaps even timelessness. We can easily imagine a weekly talk show with Darja Zgonc hosting different historical personalities. A short history lesson, on the one hand, and a reflection on contemporaneity, on the other. For it is precisely this feeling that we get watching the project about Marie Antoinette.
The talk show is symbolically and not without the inevitable irony staged at 1 French Revolution Square, the “dwelling” of contemporary Marie Antoinette. After more than two centuries, her personality and appearance no longer have all her external characteristics and character traits. Not even her sex, which can be related to the contemporary theories of gender, namely, that gender is part of a performative act (Judith Butler) and thus actually part of a person’s image with which they want to present themselves in public. Filipčič does not take Marie Antoinette’s sex into consideration since his thesis is that anyone can be Marie Antoinette, Marko Mandić as well as Jadranka Juras, the author himself or Darja Zgonc as it were. His vision takes her off the pedestal history has put her on and places her in life. Filipčič’s thesis is bold, but it is precisely with this that he comes closest to the theatre in which everyone can (re)experience the fates of great (tragic) heroes. In this sense, he goes even a step further and brings the whole concept closer to the spectator. He establishes the spectators as the subjects of the event and grants them the privilege of reading the performance through their intimate code and basic human life experience. Precisely at these points, the form of the talk show is broken with emotive scenes from the past, memory or dreams. On the other hand, there become evident 18th century entities that can be applied to the present. Despite the historical, political and social changes, they have preserved their functions, which is why many questions raised by Marie Antoinette’s fate are very pertinent also in our time. It is precisely this aspect, which appears to be intellectually the most exhilarating, that Filipčič wanted to develop in various directions. He therefore invited numerous Slovenian intellectuals and public figures to cooperate in the project and let them speak. Each of them was given the task to ask Marie Antoinette a few questions. It turned out that there are as many aspects of the development of historical, social, ethical and other dimensions of the 18th century as there are persons who reflected upon them. Some of these aspects have been included into the text of the talk show.
The text itself was created gradually with the development of the concept of the event. In a postmodernist manner, the original dialogues are complemented by quotations and paraphrases from Virginia Wolf’s Orlando, Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade and the questions posed by Slovenian public figures, thus composing a heterogeneous, but coherent basis for a theatre event. The text is partly a collage or mosaic, partly a recycling and partly even a ready-made that is stylistically hard to determine. The event has all the characteristics of a talk show as well as a multimedia theatre performance, which in many ways recreates the social situations at the 18th-century French court (the prominence of Marie Antoinette, court etiquette, observation, etc.), thus establishing the fundamental characteristics of the society then and now. Precisely due to its uniqueness and its undefined genre, documentariness and timelessness, and despite court conventions, etiquette and the form of a talk show, the Marie Antoinette project actually walks on the edge – the far edge of (un)conventionality.
Marionette - The (Talking) Head of Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette and pop? Two concepts could not be further apart. If there was ever anyone who was not inclined to mixing the elite and the popular, the narrow and the mass, the highbrow and the plebeian, it was Marie Antoinette. If there was ever anyone who was not a popular ruler, not pop-ular among her subjects, not in contact with the people in the street, it was Marie “Let Them Eat Cake” Antoinette.
Yet, the connection between Marie Antoinette and pop culture is evident. She has practically become a pop icon, a trademark, one of the most recognizable royal family members, advertisers would say “a lifestyle brand”. A name everyone has their own idea and very often also opinion about. She is the personification either of one of the most arrogant, perverted, cold and obnoxious female rulers in the history of human kind or a bit mysterious, quite mythologised, variously understood, our journalist would say “controversial” (and our judges would immediately prohibit reports on Marie Antoinette and the use of this word in connection with her) person. In short, a pop icon.
Marie Antoinette would, of course, hate the way we treat her and especially the way we present her today. She would probably want there to be operas written about her, drawing tears from the spectators’ eyes at the most tragically numinous moments. Ballet would also be appropriate. But the traditional one. By no means any modern expressionist dance or whatever this modern stuff is called.
But a theatre performance for which ordinary plebeians of various professions write tracts about her? The marketing of her name and sponsors? A talk show? Interviews? Television? Marie Antoinette did not care for mass popularity. The masses were of no concern to her. Neither were public relations. If she saw the film Sofia Coppola had made some time ago about her and she was still in power, heads would roll. She wanted to be the most elitist ruler and now her bedroom adventures are shown accompanied by neo-romantic tribal sounds of Adam & The Ants, court parties unfold to the music by Siouxie & The Banshees and her magnificent and graceful wedding to the sounds of The Cure. If she had been asked then what was a harsher punishment: to have her head chopped off or be later shown accompanied by the plebeian new-wave rhythms, she would probably have chosen the latter.
There is a possibility that Marie Antoinette, too, would get to know the rules of the 21st century. There is a possibility of her having her own Facebook profile, where she would frantically collect friends; of her lending her persona and name to a perfume, and if this failed, then at least to some mass product in the low-budget chain stores; of her starring in her own reality show, the Versailles Simple Life modelled on Paris Hilton’s show or a show about a ditzy family like the Osbournes – although her agreeing to appear on Celebrity Big Brother is nonetheless too base to expect – and of her appearing on a talk show answering the questions posed by her subjects.
There also arises the question of what kind of a talk show she would appear on. She would not fit in a folk show with a lot of accordion music and brainless barroom jokes. She would probably agree to a Sunday chat with a sugary host who would ingratiate himself as much as possible. But, today, Marie Antoinette would actually end up – and belong – on an inquisition show in which the host invites several guests, but then picks on her, the personification of evil, all that is bad in the country, the tycoon, throwing her money about, while her subjects collect food for the unemployed, the fired, the robbed and the swindled.
Even if, today, Marie Antoinette went on television and defended herself, even if she agreed to the mixing of the elite and the pop, even if she swallowed all her scruples, the final demand of the people would still be the same as more than 200 years ago. Her head.
Dr. Marko Milosavljević
The Guillotine – A Path to Democracy?
Director Matej Filipčič has become a real trademark in staging unusual female characters, which he stayed true to also in his latest performance Marie Antoinette, which is to a large extent based on the eponymous book by Stefan Zweig. During the making of the play script, some excerpts came from Virginia Woolf’s and Yukio Mishima’s works, while a number of invited intellectuals or public figures contributed their views on this famous historical figure, which were then included in the theatre programme.
The director approached the reconstruction of Marie Antoinette’s life, which history turned into a myth, a very negative myth in fact, through the spectacle form of a TV show in which a journalist (excellently “played” by journalist Darja Zgonc) invites guests to the stage. First, she interviews Marie Antoinette (Marko Mandić), and then confronts her with Robespierre (Nina Zidar Klemenčič). After a quarter of a millennium, the beheaded queen (at the edge of the stage, there sits – dressed in Hranitelj’s historical costume – her female version enacted by Jadranka Juras, nursing her beheaded head) has an opportunity to refute the lies invented already by the media at the time and later gossipers, reject the improper questions (how she felt when her child died) and call attention to xenophobia, for she was hated above all as a foreigner, an Austrian, while her “duel” with Robespierre as to whether democracy had in fact won and had brought to the people as much good as it had promised is also very entertaining.
The “TV show” is interrupted by a commercial break (the sponsors of the performance, whose making was to a large extent enthusiasm-driven) and a survey showing that the people in the street know the queen well, especially her (supposed) statement about bread and cake, but that nobody knows who Robespierre was. Ha! This also says something about democracy and its sidetracks. Another historical character appears as the queen’s memory of her Viennese childhood: her mother, the well-known Maria Theresa. Her imposing black-clad figure and her Ave Maria (interpreted by Mirjam Kalin) are an excellent non-verbal explanation of the complicated fate of a ruler and a mother.
Marie Antoinette thus skilfully reveals the hypocrisy of those who betrayed her, the brutality of those who “decapitated” her in the name of a more just order, but then themselves abused their position, while, in a brilliant scene, she throws the ball of social compassion back in the journalist’s face and in the faces of all of us who are doing well: how many times have you put food back on the shelf because it was too expensive, have you ever been unemployed, what have you done to help people in need?
Through a baroque-pop form and with a good measure of humour, Filipčič thus leads us to the serious, evergreen questions of rule and rulers, their power and powerlessness, the power of the people’s voice and the voices of those that are supposed to represent the people – the politicians and the media.
Dnevnik, Pop/Kultura - Thursday, 25 November 2010 Text by: Tanja Lesničar - Pučko
director/set design/producer: Matej Filipčič
text/dramaturgy: Eva Kraševec
costume design: Alan Hranitelj
light design: Andrej Hajdinjak
sound design: Jure Vlahovič
music production: Peter Penko and Rudolf Gas
choreography: Tanja Zgonc
proofreader and language editor: Maja Cerar
promo design: Rok Marinšek
Marko Mandić, Darja Zgonc
Jadranka Juras, Mirjam Kalin, Nina Zidar Klemenčič
Katarina Čas, Ula Furlan, Jadranka Juras, Tjaša Kokalj, Tajda Lekše, Marlenna, Vesna Milek, Irena Yebuah Tiran, Bernarda Žarn
Eva Kraševec, dr. Kozma Ahačič
Zdenka Cerar, dr. Božidar Debenjak, Zdravko Duša, dr.Igor Grdina, Bernarda Jeklin, dr. Matjaž Kmecl, Drago Kos, Bojana Leskovar,dr. Blaž Lukan, dr. Marko Milosavljević, Mitja Meršol, Miša Molk, Maja Sunčič, Janez Škrabec, Ivo Vajgl
photo: Peter Uhan, Matjaž Tančič
production: OSUM, november 2010
project was realized with help by Ministry of Culture of R Slovenia
2011 - Performance was selected for 46th Maribor Theatre Festival