Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sur le Pont d'Avignon

by Sally Filho



An expectant audience awaits Portsmouth Grammar School's
forthcoming production of The Exonerated at Festival d'Avignon 2013

The often mispronounced lyrics of this simple XVth century French song belong to Everyman’s knowledge of Gallic musical culture, together with two lines of Piaf’s ‘Non, rien de rien’ and half a line of ‘La Marseillaise’.  A group of students from The Portsmouth Grammar School will propulse  inter-cultural exchange between GB and France to a significantly higher plane this summer by taking a play performed in English to the world-famous Avignon Festival in July: exciting, daring and daunting it is, fun it should be, mundane it won’t be.
The Avignon Festival is a huge affair with an estimated one million spectators and participants involved over three weeks.  In the OFF Festival alone (the equivalent to Edinburgh’s ‘Fringe’), 1,000 companies take part and 1,600 plays and theatrical events are produced. The overall budget for this exhilarating Festival bursting with ideas and buzzing with invention is 13 million Euros. There are 3,500 performing arts professionals who also organize meetings, lectures and debates, thus creating a unique and splendidly creative event in European cultural life.  The Festival boasts itself to be “The Biggest Theatre in the World” and it probably is! There will be over 500 journalists present and, if they have any sense, some will wish to write about us.
We are playing ‘The Exonerated’, by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, which tells the true story of six wrongfully convicted survivors of death row.  This is verbatim theatre as the text is entirely taken from actual interviews, court summaries, testimonies, police records and, principally, statements from the six ‘exonerated’.  The play is thoughtful, funny at times but mostly intensely absorbing.  Moving from monologues and scenes set in courtrooms and prison cells, the six interwoven stories engage the spectators on a memorable emotional journey as well as evoke a depressing picture of a deeply dysfunctional criminal justice system.  We believe that the very knowledgeable Avignon Festival theatre-goers will enjoy its impact.  It will be, I believe, a French première after notable successes in the States and Great Britain. 


So Portsmouth will be represented in this International yet so very French occasion, and I am quite sure our pupils will do us proud.  The original lyrics of ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ actually went ‘Sous le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse’, for under the arches  were popular drinking places where one could indeed dance, be merry and indulge in all sorts of pleasurable and illicit activities.  Our merriment will of course limit itself to what is right and proper; if we dance at all, it will be on the old bridge, not under it, or in the shadow of the impressive Palais des Papes.  There will be no need for any of us to be exonerated for any crime committed or intended, nor will we mention Trafalgar.

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