“Ik ben misschien de enige die jou kan troosten, maar ik ben de laatste die je kan helpen”
Jean Cocteau’s 1930 monologue La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) has been a part of Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s repertoire for a few years now, though sadly I’ve not been able to fit it into any my trips there, What I could schedule though was De Andere Stem (The Other Voice), a response piece written by Ramsey Nasr and so I booked myself in, despite not actually having seen what it was responding to!
La Voix Humaine takes the form of a telephone call in which we hear an unnamed woman talk to an ex whom she is barely over, a relationship still invested with huge emotion and what Nasr does in De Andere Stem is to imagine the other side of the conversation, what kind of man could evoke such passion in someone, what might he have done. Directed by Ivo van Hove, it is ferociously intense, very much of a piece with Song From Far Away which played at the Young Vic last year.
Shacked up with a new girlfriend, Nasr’s protagonist has all the messiness that comes with a difficult break-up, the love/hate dynamic which has proven impossible to live with and yet so addictive that he can’t live without it. Even as his new love blows him on the sofa, he can’t help but be drawn to his ex, sucked back into their old games even as he knows that he’s got to cut the cord, disentangle himself to finally end the misery that he well knows they cause each other.
This push/pull is brilliantly played by Nasr, and directed by van Hove in the glacial modernity of the apartment from which he calls (designed by Jan Versweyveld as per usual) and he’s very much a modern man, engaged as he is in rescuing refugees attempting to traverse the Mediterranean. Along with his chat in Arabic and tales of his mother – all combine to give a rounded sense of character, though one easily haunted by the dark shadows that blight his relationships.
One bugbear was that he communicates via his mobile device without headphones (see pic below) which is all fine and 21st century but you lose the intimacy of the phone call and the reality of not hearing the other side (which one presumes is what La Voix Humaine has) – here, you’re just left wondering why the laptop is silent in response, a small detail but one which bothered me throughout. But still, a powerful piece of theatre that shows off just how theatrical a monologue can be.