‘Submission’ is a stage adaptation of the best-selling Michael Houllebecq novel of the same name. Houllebecq is France’s best-selling author, and has a reputation as a controversial writer who has produced some of the most urgent and disturbing novels of our time. ‘Submission’ can be described as both a political thriller and a dystopian novel, but above all, it is a satire.
‘Submission’ is a monologue play and there was no set, simply a projector screen behind the actors, stands for scripts, and microphones. This production was a scratch performance so the actors read directly from their scripts. We were told, prior to the performance, that the actors had only gathered to begin rehearsals several days earlier. This announcement of course had me questioning how good the production would be, and I was remarkably surprised.
All three actors stepped in and out of their different characters with such dramatic excellence that it was hard to believe how little rehearsal time they had been given. My guess is that the actors had been rehearsing separately prior to coming together, but their chemistry was superb, certainly suggesting a longer rehearsal period. Any small mistakes were corrected immediately and I soon stopped paying attention to the fact that they were reading from scripts. Instead I was engrossed in the themes and topics of the daring play, and the great performances of the actors.
The play imagines a France of the near-future under Islamic rule. France is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic party whose main concerns are supporting Palestine and Islamising education. The party was supported by the socialists in order to prevent Marine Le Pen’s National Front from taking power.
As a Muslim, my first reaction to hearing about this play was shock that HOME, a progressive theatre, would put on a play that one would imagine to be very critical of Islam. But the play’s target is not Muslims. Rather, the play, in the tradition of French satire, is ‘a mischievous and comic reflection on the lack of faith and meaning in Western Society.’ Beliefs, including Islam, were hilariously distorted to create a wonderful satire.
An example of this is the Muslim Brotherhood’s firing of all female teachers, and Islamic conversion of all male teachers. These ideas have no roots in Islam, but the play cleverly displays how religion can be distorted for political purposes, and also plays on people’s fears of Islam.
Neil Bell’s performance as main character, François, was brilliant. His portrayal of a middle-aged literature professor who feels he is at the end of his sentimental and sexual life, was both frustrating and sympathetic. A highlight was when he moaned sexually whilst the future President gave a political speech. There was a hilarious juxtaposition between something so serious (France’s future as an Islamic country or a far-right nationalist one) and the main character’s desire to just live his life and have sex.
François’ girlfriend Myriam, Jewish student who relocated to Israel out of fear of the Islamising of France, was played perfectly by Carla Henry. This was perhaps one of the few realistic parts of the satirical play. I must also highlight Henry’s delicious deviousness when she switched characters and played Marie, François’ opinionated colleague.
It was interesting watching a scratch performance in HOME’s black box studio space. It was wonderful to watch this topical play come together. I hope to see a full production of ‘Submission’ one day, the scratch performance certainly had me gripped.