“On the bones of the dead”, the theatrical nature of Simon McBurney

Amanda Hadingue plays Janina in the play

We hadn’t seen him in Paris since 2018, and we missed him and his theater as a sensitive explorer, human archaeologist: the brilliant Simon McBurney is back, at the Odéon-Théâtre de l Europe, with On the bones of the dead. Once again, it is a journey that he offers, adapting the ecological and feminist thriller by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018.

The British director is first and foremost a storyteller, and Tokarczuk’s delightful novel is ideal material for him, with its mixture of poetic and scientific imaginations, its anthropological questions and its devastating humour. The Polish writer places it in a small hamlet in the heart of the Sudetes, on a snowy plateau that a simple road connects to the Czech Republic.

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There lives Janina Doucheyko, a retired engineer, passionate about nature, astrology and the work of the poet and painter William Blake. And it’s quite a literary creation that this Janina, to which we become irresistibly attached: solitary wolf, free and wild, endowed with a spirit that is ironic to say the least, thirsty for justice, she has no desire to conform to the roles that the patriarchal and ultra-Catholic society of her country assigns to ladies of her age.

This is the kind of woman who is capable of making this type of statement: “It’s not easy to talk to some people, especially males. I have my theory on the subject. As they get older, many men suffer from a kind of deficiency, which I call “testosterone autism”.. It is manifested by a progressive atrophy of so-called “social” intelligence and the ability to communicate, and this also handicaps the expression of thought. Affected by this disease, the man becomes taciturn and seems immersed in his daydream. »

Ironic sense of distance

Janina is also a fierce anti-hunting activist, in this universe where poaching and beating are part of the life of the ordinary male. One morning, she discovers her neighbor dead in her kitchen, a small deer bone stuck across his throat. A few days later, another man is found at the bottom of a well. Around the place of the crime, in the snow, many traces of deer hoofs. Then a third thief is spotted, hanging from a snare, while the foxes on the farm he operated have managed to escape… Janina investigates, gradually convinced that the animals are taking revenge on the hunters.

We will see what it is, over the course of this novel and this show where “the infinitely large is included in the infinitely small”, and where questions about predation, human influence on other species, the role of murder in the chain of evolution are not simplistic: Olga Tokarczuk shares with her heroine the sense of ironic distance. As evidenced by the end of the story, which of course we will not reveal.

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