“La Campagne”, a jubilant theatrical sleight of hand at La Scala Paris

Isabelle Carré and Emmanuel Noblet in “La Campagne”, by Martin Crimp, directed by Sylvain Maurice, at La Scala Paris, in November 2022.

A long table and its chair, at the back of the stage, a high rectangle of light which slides from right to left, darkens, brightens, shrinks to finally drape the actors in darkness, of whom only the frozen silhouettes remain against -day. In this clean, geometric and cold space, a chilling story unfolds. It is by Martin Crimp, a contemporary English author who does not bother with useless words and punctuates his dialogues with interjections and abortive sentences.

For the actors, the game is tight: they have to interfere in the score of the other with a natural tuned to the breath. The liveliness of the language forces them to be on the alert. The exercise requires complicity, timeliness and a paradoxical combination of relaxation and concentration. What they achieve once they have passed a test run, as if they first had to warm up to the fire of words.

They are three to occupy the stage but only appear there as a duo: the husband (Emmanuel Noblet) and the wife (Isabelle Carré); the wife and mistress (Manon Clavel); the two illicit lovers. This mathematical architecture unfolded in five sequences of almost identical length allows the author to advance methodically towards the resolution of his fable.


Richard and Corinne, accompanied by their young children, have decided to live in the countryside. Richard, a doctor, brings home a stranger, Rebecca, found on the side of the road. She is actually his mistress. An acceptable argument for a monstrous tragedy, adultery is the surface that conceals unmentionable impulses. Marital infidelity is a recurring theme in private theater. Here used as a decoy, it focuses the attention of an audience far from suspecting that Martin Crimp is tricking it.

The author, however, continues to send signals suggesting that this story may hide another. Master of a diabolical and perverse game, he lays down his cards in dribs and drabs. When the play ends, there is only one option left to the astounded spectator: to go over the scenario of the performance to understand where, when and how he was fooled. A reverse journey which is precisely that of the three protagonists: where, when and how were they the prey of machinations?

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The author’s jubilant sleight of hand responds to the presence of the actors. If they evolve on the velvet of writing, they also survey the steep paths of dichotomy. Both victims and executioners, credulous and lucid, empathetic and devoid of feelings, sincere and liars, they have to be one and multiple. If it is not easy to develop such densities, all come out with flying colors, but Isabelle Carré, imperial, deserves a special mention, as she hoists the whole towards excellence. Nothing deviates in this actress from the role she plays. She is there entirely, without doing too much or not enough. Always in balance. Watching it is a delight, and a great lesson in theatre.

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