School for Buffoons

production info

by: Michael De Ghelderode

cast: Andy McQuade, Iaione Perez, Shaban Arifi, Corin Rhyse Jones

director: Victor Sobchak

design: Nika Khitrova

Production information can change over the run of the show.

Michel De Ghelderode's mainly pre-war plays draw on Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty and Pieter Brueghel's paintings to create dark, macabre dramas in which troubled characters wrestle with death and degradation.
Set in medieval
Spain, School for Buffoons opens with a chain gang of masked, deformed figures being whipped in the presence of their master, Folial (Andy McQuade). He wishes to teach them how to survive everyday cruelty while they secretly plot to overthrow him and steal the secret of his art, which keeps them captive.
The overall effect is of Prospero in a madhouse of Calibans. Director Victor Sobchak brings his Russian background to the themes of mental and physical confinement that made the play popular in communist
Europe and uses haunting music alongside Nika Khitrova's dimly-lit set - lamps, shadows, velvet drapes - to create the atmosphere of an expressionist film.
The cast also use body and eye movements, dance and mime to overcome the inadequacy of language alone to express terror and fear. Marcel Stoetzler's lanky, distorted form as the buffoon Buffry is particularly compelling.
In line with Artaud's theories, cruelty eventually revitalises Folial but Sobchak realises this 60-year-old play is unlikely to have the same effect on an audience in the age of Sarah Kane. So he emphasises instead the lack of love and hope in these grotesque lives - and uses a wonderfully vulnerable mime from McQuade to suggest that art may not be able to transform such lives but can at least express the terrible poignacy of their position.  

Colin Shearman