Mohammed El Khatib is fast becoming a leading voice in French contemporary theatre. His first work A Beautiful Ending was performed at the Birmingham Repertory theatre in January 2015 to great success and this December he has returned with I, Corinne Dadat, an hour-long ‘encounter’ with a cleaning lady who smokes twenty a day, weighs 154lb and listens to Schubert.
Performed in French with English surtitles, El Khatib’s highly self-referential, verbatim style blends fiction and documentary. The performers utilise the stage whilst four-year-old interview footage is projected onto a backdrop and voice-recordings play out, intermittently into the theatre space. It is not so much a piece of drama, but rather a reiteration of previously conducted conversations that are reconstructed on stage in accordance to the directors overarching, artistic plan – to hear a touching working class view on the economic crisis. Mohammed, both director and performer, weaves in and out of the action as a type of questioner, or provoker, whilst Corinne, Elodie and an industrial sized scrubbing machine clean and dance their way across the stage.
Mohammed, both director and performer, weaves in and out of the action as a type of questioner, or provoker,
Throughout the performance, we are given a battle between Corinne’s rigid and repetitive cleaning routines versus Elodie’s elaborate dance routines, and this element of competition raises important questions as to how society measures skill, both creatively and financially. The spectators are inclined to route for Corinne, hard-working and struggling with arthritis, as she is repeatedly put to shame by Elodie’s flexibility – but it is Elodie who is the underdog here. ‘How do you feel knowing that you earn twice as much as me?’ She asks Corinne. And then turns to Mohammed: ‘And you, earning three times as much simply for telling my story?’ The economic crisis underrecognizes skills, makes dreams unachievable and taints ambition, Mohammed implies, but at least verbatim theatre has the power to give everyone – from dancers, to directors, to cleaners – a platform on which to express themselves in these difficult times.
but at least verbatim theatre has the power to give everyone – from dancers, to directors, to cleaners – a platform on which to express themselves in these difficult times.
The piece deliberately poses more questions than it answers but at certain points, serious topics seemed brushed over and do not have the impact that was, perhaps, intended. Corinne’s depression, for example, is implied only briefly and so, when she contemplates suicide, it does not achieve the devastation that it could have. It is at times like this when it appears Mohammed is reaching for a more poignant, socio-political commentary that hasn’t quite been reached in the interview process with Corinne. The performance may be more successful without these fleeting references that often obstruct the pace of the action.
I, Corinne Dadat is a recommendable piece of well-constructed verbatim theatre, by an exciting director who makes the most of, and is not afraid to take risks with, the technique. Corinne, herself, is lightly funny, endearing and interesting and it is a pleasure to spend an hour in her company.
Corinne, herself, is lightly funny, endearing and interesting and it is a pleasure to spend an hour in her company.
The content of the narrative is not as poignant as one may hope, but this can be attributed to the constraints of the verbatim form rather than any criticism of El Khatib himself. He is a director who fully exploits the contemporary notion of representing truth and reality and has, thus far, created two pieces of raw and thought-provoking theatre and for this he should be applauded. It is exactly the kind of minimalist, political theatre that you expect, and hope to see at The Door theatre in the REP.