By Isaac Lim
(496 words, 4 minute read)
In the beginning, there was light.
Four characters are glimpsed on a bare stage as it gradually and sporadically lights up. They each hold a portable control board that operates the venue’s lights. They are silent. Then their thoughts appear as words projected on two panels, and this leads to a process where they figure out a spoken language through which they can express themselves fully.
Welcome to a world jointly created by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, a world built on unexpected logic, where surprising discoveries are constantly made. This is Germinal.
At the heart of the performance are the ideas of exploration, negotiation, and consensus. ‘Germinal’ is French for germinate, it refers to a spring month in the French Republican Calendar, and it is also the title of a renowned novel by Emile Zola about a coalminers’ strike. Birth, growth and solidarity. As the four characters create their world, we see the start of a cycle, an economy, a way being together.
But as much as the four inhabitants attempt to establish a collective identity, they also bring to the work their individual charms. Halory is the try-hard leader who doesn’t always get it right, Jean-Baptiste is the persistent worker who is also a natural entertainer, Denis is well-meaning but sometimes hapless, and Beatriz is the gutsy rule-breaker and sole female.
It is Beatriz, for example, who wanders off stage and returns with a pickaxe, then, shockingly, hacks through the stage floor to discover a microphone below. Later, a guitar, an amp and a pine forest are also exhumed – and indeed, the show unearths so many surprising discoveries that the characters decide to categorize their world. Hitting the mic against the floor, the wall or each other makes a ‘poc poc’ sound, so ‘poc poc’ becomes one category of existence. Abstract concepts like happiness make no such sound, and thus fall into the newly created ‘not poc poc’ category. It’s an insane experiment, but it’s highly entertaining, and is grounded by the insouciant earnestness of the quartet as they argue about the rules of their universe. Even when they ‘discover’ such unlikely words as ‘cathartic’ and ‘karmic vibrations’, it is easy for the audience to suspend our belief in such a clever and precisely engineered performance.
As the foursome continue negotiating their needs and wants in this world they both found and created, they collectively decide to beget a swamp, which appears in the form of a sunken tub filled with styrofoam bits. This is indicative of Germinal, which creates fantasy from the most basic of material, which plays with one’s conscious and unconscious expectations, which takes its audience on a madcap journey of discovery from the very beginning of things to the very end. And indeed, all things must end—but when they do, let it be with intrigue, surprise and laughter, in a singalong in a styrofoam swamp.
Germinal by Halory Goerger & Antoine Defoort, was presented as part of the 2017 Singapore International Festival of Arts. It ran from 31 August – 2 September 2017 at the SOTA Drama Theatre. This review is based on the performance on 2 September 2017, 8pm.
Isaac Lim is a full-time daydreamer and most-of-the-time writer. He holds an Honours degree in Theatre Studies from NUS, is a copywriter, playwright, theatregoer. He likes the word ‘and’ because it brings about many possibilities, and can be found on IG through #ZacGoesToTheTheatre.
This review is part of the Performance Criticism Mentorship Programme initiated by National Arts Council and organised by ArtsEquator. It is a six-month programme during which theatre critic and mentor Matthew Lyon guides mentees Isaac Lim and Patricia Tobin in reviewing one performance a month from July to December 2017.