Book, theatre, broken glass



(Who, incidentally, made an album called Dakar – in 1961 I think it was.)

The stage is dark but you can see the contours of a simple bar, made out of wood. There are large windows and those simple plastic tables and chairs, garden variety. You see them in every neighbourhood bar up and down the continent. Bottles parked on top.

We are about to see a stage rendition of  “Verre cassé”. It means “broken glass” or in this case you might argue for the stronger “smashed glass”. “We”, that is, the beau monde gathered here tonight in the Institut français Léopold Sedar Senghor, formerly known as the CCF, the Centre culturel français., in the centre of Dakar. Apart from the name, nothing much has changed and certainly not the composition of the audience: mostly ex-pat, mostly French, and therefore extremely unlikely to have ever set foot in such a neighbourhood – let alone a bar like this, the haunt of “Verre cassé” and his friend, le patron, the owner.

This, then, is an adaptation of a book that I read from cover to cover in a rush a few years ago. It’s written by the Congolese author Alain Mbanckou. Open it, and you’ll plunge right into it. Like Verre cassé plunges onto the stage as soon as the lights go up. He’s got work to do, this alcoholic ex-teacher. He must write the stories of the people who frequent the bar. That is why the owner has given him a notebook.

Le Crédit a voyagé. Pay-as-you-drink. That’s the name of the bar. And drink they do, the men who come in to tell their stories. Business has been so good that politics and religion conspire to shut the place down. And we all know, once these two get involved, everything turns to shit. But for now, the folks talk and Verre cassé writes, if he is not meticulously re-aligning the cheap plastic chairs. Or drinking. Or pontificating about writers, the French language, or his ex-wife. There is definitely something simultaneously sane and unhinged about the man.

Anyway: he writes. About the man who thought he had a great marriage with a nice white French lady – until he found her in bed with their son. Now, he’s broken: he stutters – and he drinks. About the man who can no longer sit in his chair. He has been gang-raped in prison once the inmates found out that he had been put in the slammer on suspicion of paedophilia, spread by his estranged wife. Which, he claims, is not true. He did go and see the young prostitutes down the road though. Now, he just drinks. Verre cassé tries the same ladies of the night ‘because it’s been a long time since I have been lucky’ – but they send him on his way.

So that is what we saw, tonight. Smashed glasses. Broken lives. All written up in a notebook without a beginning or an end. When Verre cassé’s friend gets to see the notebook, he is astonished. What? No commas, no upper and lower case, no end points, no quotation marks, how can he tell when someone is talking? It’s the exact way in which Alain Mbanckou wrote “Verre cassé”.

There is something strangely uplifting in seeing this wonderful production, played by two Paris-based actors, Tadié Tuéné and Jean Bédiébé. Just like there is something inexplicably exhilarating about reading Mbanckou’s rollercoaster novel – or indeed listening to Coltrane’s reckless “sheets of sounds” tumbling through the speakers. You don’t want to miss the ride, even though you know it will end badly.

Or will it? Verre cassé does not think so. He’s done his job, as far as he’s concerned. He’s off, to Paradise. ‘And if they don’t let me in through the door, I’ll climb in through the window!’

The end.

And if you can’t see the play, then go and read that book. All of you.

One Response to “Book, theatre, broken glass”

  1. bramposthumus Says:

    Very nice to hear that from you. Keep enjoying it, there will be more to come.

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