Pulse Fringe: Jean Jacques

The social contract, as it were, between a theatre and an audience is that the latter usually pays money in return for an experience that changes them during a play's duration.

Jean Jacques, Pulse Festival, New Wolsey Studio, 8th June.

The social contract, as it were, between a theatre and an audience is that the latter usually pays money in return for an experience that changes them during a play's duration. They may come out into the fresh air happier, more depressed, better informed or with an increased awareness of their own dilemmas. Regardless of the outcome, they feel good about feeling different.

Jean Jacques is a 45 minute soliloquy delivered by the eighteenth-century author of a rather more profound Social Contract and other philosophical works. Sadly, Gregory Floy's performance as the aging and ill Rousseau leaves one pretty uninterested in and curiously disengaged from the man.

It needn't have been like this. The elements of an intense production were all there. As the audience enters, a video of Floy, magnified and projected onto a red curtain, repeatedly and ominously enunciates Rousseau's most famous dictum that “men are born free, but everywhere are in chains”.


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The set was spartan and Floy's initial presence, including a twitching right hand and urinary problems, suggested a man physically breaking down. The interspersion of Floy's directly delivered Confessions with further talking head video pronouncements from Rousseau's works effectively indicated a whole philosophy under question as well.

So what went wrong? Two things, I believe. First, there was a problem of direction. Floy's Rousseau, rather than revealing his Confessions in hurried asides to himself or to the air or to the few objects on the set, directly addresses the audience. It was like being at a philosophy lecture delivered by a slightly dotty and embarrassingly indiscreet professor.

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Second, in my opinion, Floy just did not demonstrate on the night I was there a technique intense enough to consistently convey the emotional and physical ailments of Rousseau across the full span of the play. His rather 'actorly' and declamatory delivery and too vigorous movements (his belaboured pissing in a pot behind the curtain, notwithstanding) detracted from the uncertain and self-questioning lines he was articulating.

So Floy/Rousseau's closing revelation that he had shipped off his five children, whilst still infants, to a foundling hospital, fell rather flat. “So what?” is not a reaction one wants to confess to at the end of any play.

I wouldn't rip up my contract with this performance, but I would certainly want to renegotiate it.

Paul Simon

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