Show review: “Political Playlist” by Emilie Rousset, a modest and ambitious object

It is a strange object, both wide and short, both modest and ambitious. It is difficult to really evaluate this show, which leaves a taste of unfinished, but whose interest is perhaps precisely that.

As its title suggests, “Political Playlist” is a show that intends to focus on the relationship between politics and music. On the stage, two actors take on several roles in succession in a very meta-theatrical setting that portrays the author and director herself working on her subject. At the start, she is putting her son to bed while her partner goes to the choir, then she explains her project to the audience, scrolling through various documents on a computer screen projected in the background: sound files, video files etc.

Emile Rousset has been working on documentary material for the theater for several years. We owe him a sound installation on the Bobigny trial – the famous trial for the illegal abortion of young girls, defended in particular by Gisèle Halimi, then more recently another show entitled “The oceanographers” on a pioneering scientist, Anita Conti. In “Political Playlist”, the starting point is the ceremony which followed the election of Emmanuel Macron in 2017, when he walks on the Place du Louvre to the pyramid, while behind him resounds the Ode to the joy of Beethoven, with this question: how does Macron manage to arrive at the right moment in front of the microphone and start his speech.

From there develops on stage a rather erratic reflection on the Ode to Joy and Beethoven, its rewriting by the leader Karajan, notorious Nazi, to serve as an anthem to the new European Union, the relationship between the national anthem and the military imagery, the use of a title by Nina Hagen by Angela Merkel, all linked to domestic scenes: the author with her son who asks her questions about her work, or who gives her advice on how to direct her dreams.

There is an elusive side to this series of sequences, whose status varies: between biographical fiction, with this thread drawn from the family chronicle; the documentary podcast; the program parody – for example there is this moment when the two actors replay a column by Roselyne Bachelot on France Musique, but also the sketch, quite simply, when on the screen in a film shot at the Louvre one of the actors reproduces Macron’s march trying to tune in to his gestures and the music on the pavement, or when we recount Mitterrand’s investiture ceremony with Barenboim at the helm in front of the pantheon. The success of the show is partly due to the very convincing comic vein – from this point of view the two actors, Manuel Vallade and Anne Steffens, are excellent.

Too much or too little

I don’t know if it’s a problem, but this kind of uncertainty is due to this somewhat strange shape. Sometimes between two parodic moments, the show settles frankly in the documentary, by simply reproducing an interview with the director and a specialist who is otherwise quite recognized in hymns, Estéban Buch. The very status of speech then raises questions. We are very first degree, in a totally informative register, potentially a little boring at times, which is not really theatrical, and these very literal passages coexist with much more troubled and complicated moments, in particular these passages between the mother and her son who appear in the economy of documentary theatre, very strange. I can’t tell if this deviation is welcome – perhaps the show lacks the flesh to tie all these sequences together, and really produce a deep reflection on what it aims to understand : the relationship between music and politics. From this point of view, the show looks like an ongoing project, not uninteresting, you might say, since that is precisely what it is about. One can think on the contrary that it is almost a little too long, and could for example have confined itself to a case, Beethoven and the European Union for example, and completely assume its comic tenor by frankly choosing the sketch form. Be that as it may, the end, which I’m not going to reveal, but which is festive and therefore a bit clever, erases in a stroke of force the few doubts that we could have had.

Show review: “Political Playlist” by Emilie Rousset, a modest and ambitious object