In Le Mystère du gant by Roger Dupré, Léonard Berthet-Rivière found the material for his first creation. With Muriel Legrand, he shakes up the Vaudeville genre, seated at the table, and manages, in a beautiful acting partnership, to grant it (once again) - its pride of place.
The heart of the play is vaudeville, which is often considered a lesser, extremely codified genre: light comedy. It boils down to the wife, the husband, and the lover. Why perform in a vaudeville in 2022?
Léonard Berthet-Rivière: To start with because this is not a vaudeville that can be summed up as the wife, the husband, and the lover. There is a doctor dressed as a bird in Le Mystère du gant, for example! That’s worth noting! And he flies out the window, which is worth noting too! It's above all an absurd vaudeville... If I borrow certain codes when writing a pastiche, it's out of love for what I found there, in these texts.
I don't know if these are lesser genres. Feydeau and Labiche have always performed a lot of them, including at the Comédie-Française. And Feydeau has just been published by La Pléiade! Maybe acting in a vaudeville goes against current theater trends? But maybe if we always followed current trends, the theater would become monotonous? When I started writing Mystère du gant, I didn't know where I would go with it. I was simply enjoying the pleasure of writing, of unfolding situations as if they were coming back to my memory. When I was little, I was part of an amateur theater troupe and I knew by heart texts by Ionesco, such as La Cantatrice chauve, or Alfred Jarry. Later, I read Beckett. It is also these authors who lead me to believe that behind the absurd hides a certain depth of existence that escapes us.
Muriel Legrand: And above all, making people laugh is your primary intention! No!?
LBR: Yes! I like to make people laugh. To me, it's a form of courtesy. It's hard to explain what makes people laugh in theater. You never really know how laughter is born. I believe very strongly in the fact that, when you’re working on the staging and a scene which is not comic turns out to be comic, it’s because we are touching the essence of the writing. Well, that can't be true for all of Racine's scenes, either!
ML: Le Mystère du gant is not just about vaudeville! It is above all a vaudeville at the table, and gender-neutral: an actor and an actress play 13 characters. It's an incredible challenge. I fell in love with Le Mystère du gant. And Le Mystère du gant fell into my arms. I grew up in the world of operetta. In a way, the vaudeville genre also resonated with my childhood. I deeply love this theatrical genre that many consider "obsolete". Today, more than yesterday, I need to laugh. Léonard too, I think. He constantly seeks this courtesy. I find it essential. It makes me feel good. Based on experience, I’d say it’s also good for the audience.
LBR: I like to hear the audience laugh. It's like a kind of machinery that starts up.
ML: Or not (laughs).
You make the radical choice of a pared down arrangement. There is a kind of discrepancy between the simplicity of the scenic approach - you read at the table - and the complexity of the comic impulses of vaudeville.
LBR: In Le Mystère du gant, there is no scenery. We are at the table. We play all the characters in pairs, sometimes with a few props that remain very rare and unexpected. Everything comes together in the imagination of the audience. We were talking about the outdated nature of vaudeville, which may be a thing of the past. But this past also tells a story. Perhaps the imagination works, because it reconnects with its own images of the past, where there is a form of joy in experiencing an old-fashioned project, where it recovers a certain love of theater?
ML: Like this, I’ll show you: a door slams. This is how it goes. (Muriel Legrand mimes the gesture)
What does laughter make us discover about the characters?
ML: The finesse of their minds (laughs).
LBR: If we laugh, it's because we become very attached to each of the characters, to their struggles, their flaws, their pains, their fears.
ML: I put on a mustache. This gesture reveals something. The writing and the rhythm also reveal something. There is nothing psychological in it.
LBR: We look for what amuses us. Like in life, like children. Suddenly, Muriel makes me burst out laughing. For example, when the mustache falls off and it goes "plop"! This situation surprises us, sweeps us away. We try to reproduce it with all our love.
In vaudeville, there is intrigue. It develops gradually, it is very careful.
LBR: The plot is very important. To tell the story of an emergency which is perhaps a matter of life or death for the characters, without overlooking anything. Moreover, the so-called "secondary" characters must have a real part. Chantal Couchard participates in the plot. The character of Chantal isn’t just part of the décor, even if she is very decorative (laughs).
ML: Alexandrine, too.
LBR: It is the spirit of seriousness that is banned! At least, I hope so.
ML: It's not easy to make clear the story of 13 characters played at the table, by two! Sometimes I was reading without hearing, there was a small spotlight on that area. It is a succession of small illuminations and clearings to make everything extremely clear. It has a rhythm...
– Interview by Sylvia Botella in September 2022