Of the many virtues of the Avignon Theatre Festival Off one of the most evident is the respite it offers from the severity of the “In.” I’ve witnessed many charming and whimsical hour-long spells of storytelling in the intimate spaces scattered around the city. Though, even this nary a drop of cynicism whimsy demands its own escape. Bievenue au Corée du Nord at the Théâtre des Halles and directed by Olivier Lopez is this oasis of crude, hilarious, and, yes, politically potent clowning.
The troupe of four clowns enter with bags in tow in front of set designer Luis Enrique Gomez’s fabulous red velvet curtain. They are dressed in fantastically absurd, then later beautiful, then again absurd costuming by Ateliers Seraline. This costuming is a delightful foundation to much of the play in the performance. The clowns, now ready to greet us, inform us that they have recently paid a visit to North Korea. What ensues is a fabulously innocent authoritarian show and tell.
The four clowns are at times petty, self righteous, outrageous, and self absorbed. These faults make them excellent ambassadors of North Korea. They are enchanted by North Korean patriotism, history, and aesthetic. During one of the more stirring moments of the show a clown, who can never seem to get anything right, longs for the lack of choice offered to the North Koreans. She hopes for a world where she can’t make mistakes. Under director Lopez’s vibrant framing, and with the talents of actors Marie Laure Baudain, Alexandre Chatelin, Laura Deforge, and Adélaïde Langlois on stage, the play becomes a superb flamboyant burlesque à la “Springtime For Hitler.”