Pirandello in Paris

“But don’t you see that the whole trouble lies here? In words. Words! Each one of us has within them a whole world of things, their own special world. And how can we ever come to an understanding if I put in words the sense and value of things as I see them; while you who listen to me must inevitably translate them according to the conception of things you have within yourself. We think we understand each other, but we never really do.”

Imagine you are a writer. Or someone who creates characters in your head. Or anyone curious about how people react and interact in given situations.

Now imagine you are at home, enjoying a moment to yourself. There is a knock at the door. You answer. In walk a family of six. You ask them their business. They reply that they want their story told. You enquire further. They tell you that a writer created them, but abandoned them in the artistic process, leaving them to wander in search of an author. You ask them to tell their story. They do: a story of incest, prostitution, poverty and suicide. 

“Life is full of strange absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true.” 

“Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello was performed for the first time exactly one hundred years ago in Rome in 1921. It caused a scandal — one of those famous theatre riots where the author has to hide or risk confronting an outraged, bloodthirsty mob. Pirandello’s play is currently being played in Paris in a production by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota that was first performed twenty years ago and has since toured the world. If you have a chance, I would highly recommend it.

For my part, I first saw a student production of this at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford. The implications of the play — that the characters we create are in some sense real and that we are only ever our own story and nothing more — moved me. The chilling moment when the six characters seek audience in the theatre is the first gasp of surprise. They are a downtrodden group, dressed in black and wearing ghastly faces, a lady in a mourning veil, two children, one with a doll. The director doesn’t know what to do with them, thinks they are playing a prank and asks them to leave. But they insist on telling their story, which evolves bit by bit, sometimes interpreted by the troupe, but never surpassed. 

“I am an “unrealised” character, dramatically speaking…” 

Be careful, not of, but with the characters you create. It might be cliché, but you don’t know when they might come back to haunt you. Or someone else. Take time and care to give them proper rites and, if necessary, bury them as befits a human burial. The fictional world, one that we take so lightly and for granted, is our own creation and surely we must take pride in this. Right? 

“The human, the writer, the instrument of the creation, will die; but their creation does not die.” 

One hundred years later it seems hard to think that Pirandello’s interpretation of theatrical space could provoke anymore than mild intellectual titillation. But the theatre is a subliminal space, one that hovers on the border between fiction and reality. It can create moments of almost blinding sincerity, just to establish an overwhelming feeling of doubt immediately after. It is certainty — these are fleshy, breathing humans who act; it is uncertainty — what happens on stage is subject to the laws of chance, like any other human endeavour. 

“It’s really like that that it happened.”

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