ALKMAAR – The Yugoslav theatre group Maska i Pokret (Mask and Movement) is touring the Netherlands from April 27 to 10 June. Last Saturday evening this group played a one-act play, Mme Leopoldine’s Memoirs, in Provadja.
Mme (Madame) Leopoldine’s Memoires is a theatrical production in which no words are spoken. Masks and various forms of movement create all kinds of images, which tell the spectator that this woman (Mme Leopoldine) leads (and has suffered) a lonely, withdrawn life – and finds it very difficult to cope with. The whole thing is laced with personal memories. The theatrical portrayal of these memories makes this production accessible even for the uninitiated.
Undoubtedly, this form of theatre is unique. Iva and Petar Mandic are obsessed with the mask. Their aim is to bring the mask to life in the theatre. With the help of highly focused musical fragments, the couple wants to use their productions to gain and give insight into what drives human actions. In short: what is our psyche like? What influences do our environment and personal memories have on our actions?
It is quite a job for the spectator to fathom this kind of theatrical event. It means paying attention to every gesture, every action and constantly wondering how certain scenes can be connected. In the one-act play Mme Leopoldine, this studious monitoring and listening is demanded of the spectator.
Mme Leopoldine is portrayed by a somewhat long, expressionless mask, to which a black dress is attached. She is twice as tall as the players themselves. Around her neck she has a white lace collar. She is old. Music and movement in the performance create fairly early on an image, telling us that this woman is clinging to precious memories. For example, she attaches a white embroidered cloth to the black back wall. Then she places a pink bouquet of flowers in the middle of it. Images from her youth follow. Unpleasant memories were suppressed by her, but do influence her actions. The consequences of decisions made in the past are made immediately visible.
So is the confrontation with an admirer, who was rejected, now experienced as a happy event. There is dancing. Cramped, contorted movements on the other hand, supported by violent electronic music fragments make it clear to the viewer that the man, probably her husband, has exploited her in the past. A puppet that is taken from under a table is finally, after being shaken back and forth for a long time, gagged and angrily thrown away.
Throughout the performance, movement forms and musical fragments are forged into short, tangible stories. It becomes understandable because present and past are skilfully mixed. The cause-and-effect principle is accurately pursued.
Mme Leopoldine’s Memoires is not an improvised performance. Every action has a function and contributes to a fascinating total image of this individual.
A striking discovery is that the mask, the expressionless face, is no obstacle to any identification.
Anyone who still wants to see Maska i Pokret can attend the Festival of Fools in Amsterdam at the end of May.