Experience the creation of the world in just an hour, in this remarkable piece of theatre from France
In the beginning, there is darkness.
With the audible click of a physical switch, there is white light. And then, with another click, it is gone. Click: light on. Click: light off. The clicks begin to overlap, the patterns become more complex, until a projector light of blue and green travels across the stage. Click: it is turned off.
Click: surtitles appear on the back of the stage. But they are a translation of thought, rather than of vocalisation. It will take us a while to get to spoken language – but not too long. After all, Germinal has less than an hour and a half to build us an entire universe, and it will build it in a silly and wonderful fashion.
Germinal, conceived and directed by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, and performed by the pair with Arnaud Boulogne and Beatriz Setién, is a twisting creation. Thought and language arrives complex, surprised by itself but also understanding itself. The stage appears to be the entirety of this universe, but in fact a door allows egress – and from somewhere behind it, a pickaxe is brought to the stage so that our players may discover what is hidden underneath its boards.
There is so much about this world that doesn’t make sense, but therein lies its beautiful whimsy.
From thought grows relationships, which engenders collaboration. Awareness of breath becomes the ability to blow, which becomes the ability to make noise, which becomes sounds, which becomes spoken language – in French and English; in German and Japanese. This is less a universe where things need to be invented and more one where things need to be discovered, and so when language is discovered, all of language is possible – all languages are possible.
Germinal is not only about the building of a world, but also about building a specifically theatrical world: the wall is never not a stage wall; the curtains stage curtains; the lights stage lights. The cast is not aware they are in a theatre, but they are also not aware of theatre (as goes the saying about the fish with no knowledge of water). The theatre just is.
By this being in a theatre, the language explicitly becomes stage language, and the projected surtitles create new forms of language: why not speak aurally in French, but visually in English, if you had the chance? These surtitles aren’t simply a means of translation: they become an active choice. Us being in the audience in Melbourne informs the way language, and thus this whole world, is built. Although the work has been performed in France, in Melbourne this disconnect between possible languages becomes crucial: Germinal feels acutely relevant for an international festival audience, where difference in language becomes a new currency to play with and invent on.
From what, at first, was blackness and then an empty space, Germinal’s world becomes increasingly complex. Sets and props are built alongside thought and sound. The playing space becomes its own magical tribute to what theatre can create. From nothing, there is everything. The theatre runs to its own logic. It makes the world we will have to return to at the end of the show seem a bit too dull.
The true joy of Germinal is how it takes complex ideas about the creation of worlds and societies and crafts a play so welcoming and funny. The audience builds as the world builds: in the silence when thoughts are only projected words, the laughter is thin and pocketed. As the possibilities of sound on stage grow, so too does the volume and mass of the audience’s laughter, until we roar as one.
The characters revel in their love of discovery, they are swept away by each new turn they take – and this investment makes us invest. Each time they start to understand their world in a new way we also start to understand ours in a new way. Germinal is joyous – but it carries this joy over a story with emotional and philosophical depth. If you only had 80 minutes to invent the universe, what sort of a universe would we see?