15 — 19.05.2024

Gaia Saitta Brussels

Les jours de mon abandon

theatre — premiere

Théâtre National

Please confirm your attendance with a wheelchair during online reservation or through box officeAccessible for wheelchair usersAudio induction loopInterpreted in Sign Language | French, Italian → NL, FR, EN | ⧖ +-1h45 | €21 / €17 | Presence of a dog on stage

Italy, end of 1990s. Olga, aged 40, is the mother of two children and a devoted wife, conforming to social wishes. One day, her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Everything falls apart: reality, her world, her body. She turns vulgar, violent, unpredictable, even grotesque. During endless nights without sleep, Olga wanders the house, holding her breath as an act of resistance. The apparent madness becomes extreme lucidity, driving liberation from and deconstruction of a social norm. Once the make-up is removed and appearances abandoned, another Olga takes her place. A mythic, powerful woman, a modern Medea who takes her own life in hand. In this adaptation from the eponymous book by Elena Ferrante, actress and director Gaia Saitta embodies this woman, along with her children and her dog. The vestiges of a house are on the stage; we penetrate Olga’s physical and mental space, without distinction between interior and exterior. The audience – spread across the stage, around the kitchen table and in the stands – is both witness to and participant in Olga’s transformation. Ultimately, are we not all enclosed in a role through the insistent gaze of the others? A role which may be abandoned and rewritten at any time. A play about the emancipating power of anger and madness.

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Les jours de mon abandon

Your new creation, Les jours de mon abandon [The Days of Abandonment], places profound importance on the status of women. Can you tell us what links you to Olga, the character you play?
The piece confronts us with a question: to what extent does society affect women’s bodies? Gendered behaviour is deeply rooted in girls’ upbringing. How to get rid of it? How to respond to it? Fortunately, since the #MeToo movement, people are speaking out. The younger generations are acquiring a different political awareness. However, this awareness is not spreading to the whole of society, or to every part of the world. This is not circumscribed violence that can be tackled easily.

When I approached the character of Olga, I was thinking more about my mother’s body than my own. Until I realised I was talking about myself. Even though I’ve gained freedom, I still feel oppression, in my body, between my muscles, in my skeleton. I need to share that with audiences.

In the play, I examine the links between reality and fiction. Olga is an ordinary woman, with an ordinary story: her husband cheats on her with the neighbour’s daughter. Do we want to tell that story? I would tend to say no. That’s precisely what interests me. Olga is not the woman you want to save first and foremost. Yet she never leaves me, she’s in my throat. There’s no need for tragedy to make the story violent and oppressive. You don’t have to wait for bloodshed in order to react.

You have adapted Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name. How did you go about it?
It’s almost impossible to literally adapt Elena Ferrante’s novel for the stage. The writing is so complex. You have to read it aloud to grasp its incredible musicality. That explains my need to reintroduce the Italian language into the play. I have to pronounce certain words in my mother tongue. The sound of Ferrante’s words is prodigious. Her writing has such performative power! This is precisely where the theatricality of Ferrante’s work lies: in the complex relationship of inseparability between the body and the spoken word.

Clearly I’m not just staging Ferrante’s novel, I’m also staging the direct effect it has on our bodies. Without a doubt, this is what authorises me to adapt and stage it in the theatre. I stage what my body receives and my mind perceives. From the outset. What I understand.

What interests me is what translates into the literary and artistic act. It’s the revolt felt in the face of integrated violence. How does society lastingly impact women’s bodies? How do women integrate the duty of obedience? Society generally portrays women as generous, attentive and comforting. But women have the right to be whatever they want. The representation of the disobedient woman is lacking. Society accepts a woman’s rebellion, but only on condition that she remains dignified, beautiful and elegant.

Olga’s story lacks the dignity of tragedy. Olga rebels. She is brutal, rude, aggressive towards herself and her children. She’s like a dangerous animal. That is what interests me. We don’t usually portray women in this way. But she’s helping to liberate them.

When I read the book, I didn’t like Olga. I argued with her. To my great surprise, I discovered my own misogyny. It frightened me. After all, why wouldn’t a woman act like that? While we accept this dark side of men. But I’m not saying that a woman should act like Olga. The question is: to what extent can a woman be who she is? And not respond to the dictates of society.

Your choice of light, space, and scenography serve to recompose a house. There’s nothing utopian about this house. It’s the ultimate place of fragility and violence, inter/intra-human and familial.
I’m telling the story of the collapse of the template. We imagined a house in the process of collapsing. This narrative counterpoint doesn’t just underline the action, it also opens other doors. We use light poetically, playing with materialities and sensations. The house, for example, is both sinister and desirable. No sooner does one have the impression of entering the hyper-real world than we are soaring into the surreal.

At first you might think the play is a bourgeois family drama, but as it progresses it becomes more and more political and feminist.
Here I’m telling the stories of women that no one tells; those of all the women from my childhood –my grand-mother, my mother, my neighbour. I’m telling the story of women embedded in their bodies, their habits that don’t come from them. I’m telling the story of women who have become what society has allowed them to become under the weight of tradition and state structures.

Olga’s story urgently needs to be told because it says something about Italy today. The country is run by a woman who is not a feminist. Recently the Italian Senate adopted an amendment authorising pro-life groups to meet with women considering abortion at family planning centres, in order to “better inform” them.

So it’s not about refocusing on a bourgeois family drama, but on other allegiances and alternatives.

To what extent is Les jours de mon abandon a contemporary play?
I examine the model of the traditional Italian nuclear family. And above all, the paradigm of binarity, which is suffocating. It’s a declaration, my declaration of love. What does it mean to be a family in the 21st century?

Ultimately, I challenge the patriarchal model by approaching the question of the family through the prism of the home. Here we dismantle the house with our hands. The house as we understand it, with its rules and assignments, its violence and dedicated spaces, must be destroyed.

The anthropologist Philippe Descola says, in essence: we create our environment as a “world”. In this process of “globalisation”, everything comes into play: people, relationships, rituals, discourses, beliefs.
Absolutely. I also drew a lot of inspiration from Donna Haraway’s The Companion Species Manifesto and Paul B. Preciado’s reflections on the relationship between the subjective body and the space that surrounds it. In the same way, the house here is thought-of by analogy with bodies. It is a precipitate of desires, of struggles.

  • Interview by Sylvia Botella, April 2024

Sylvia Botella is a dramaturge at the Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles, and is also a critic. In addition, she teaches Master’s degree courses in Theatre and Performance Studies at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and in Dramatic Interpretation at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion (IAD) in Louvain-la- Neuve.

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Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles
Concept, adaptation and direction: Gaia Saitta | Artistic collaboration: Sarah Cuny, Mathieu Volpe, Jayson Batut | Text and dramaturgy: Gaia Saitta, Mathieu Volpe | Direction assistant: Sarah Cuny | With: Jayson Batut, Flavie Dachy/Mathilde Karam, Gaia Saitta, Vitesse (the dog) | Scenography: Paola Villani | Costume design: Frédérick Denis | Music and sound design: Ezequiel Menalled | Lighting design: Amélie Géhin | Lighting technician: Corentin Christiaens | Technical manager: Giuliana Rienzi | Sound engineer: Pawel Wnuczynski | Video: Stefano Serra | Video assistant: Arthur Demaret | Stage manager: Thomas Linthoudt | Decor mechanisation: Chris Vanneste | Trainees : Lou-Ann Bererd (set design), Tania Chirino (direction), Paul Canfori (direction) | Set construction and production costumes: Ateliers du Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles | Children’s coach: Lola Chuniaud | Dog coach: Casting Tails, Tim Van Brussel | A show by Gaia Saitta / If Human | Creation: Studio Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles
Production: Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre de Namur, Le Manège Maubeuge, Piccolo Teatro di Milano – Teatro d’Europa, CSS Teatro stabile di innovazione del FVG, TNC – Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, La Coop, Shelter Prod
With the support of BAMP – Brussels Art Melting Pot, Taxshelter.be, ING and the Tax Shelter of the Belgian Federal Government 
Gaia Saitta is associated artist at Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles

Les jours de mon abandon is inspired by/based on I giorni dell’abbandono by Elena Ferrante © 2002 by Edizioni E/O

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