ABOUT THE SPURT OF BLOOD
Antonin Artaud’s The Spurt of Blood from 1925 is a stormy rumination on love, death and the predicaments of humanity concentrated to a few mind-boggling pages. At the core of the play is a simple and eloquent juxtaposition: love in an idealised form versus agents of dominant social forces. Artaud views the social arrangement as cataclysmic, and renders love as a doomed pursuit.
Although the text is impossible to divorce from Artaud’s tortured personality, it points no less perceptively at an eternal phenomenon that configures itself anew according to the psychological climate of each era: the terror and longing that arise where societal values and the individual’s emotional life collide. One body of work that throws light upon Artaud’s theme, is that of Erich Fromm – the psychologist and humanist who brought historical and cultural factors within the purview of psychology, and identified the plight of man in the post-existentialist world more lucidly and comprehensively than most: Modern man, claimed Fromm, is unable to sustain the spiritual autonomy granted only recently by the fall of God, and seeks comfort in modern patterns of submission. It appears that the pursuit of “freedom”, more often than not, throws men at the feet of materialism.
By the same token, ‘love’ in its most widespread use is coded as a model of extended egotism. However, ‘love’ understood as ‘selflessness’ – an absolute, non-acquisitive principle for life in its entirety – certainly counteracts the self-centred modern mentality, and is likely to suffer isolation, if not mockery. And yet man’s freedom and the affirmation of life in general is rooted in one’s capacity to love unconditionally.
“It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. The tragedy in the life of most of us is that we die before we are fully born”, remarks Fromm. With such observations in mind,Theatre of Cruelty chose to leave the timeless, placeless world of Artaud behind and embark upon a historically allusive interpretation. With actors as mediums, director Lars Øyno invokes icons of liberation utopias and endearing corruption that populate our cultural memory: Hans Christian Andersen, Berthold Brecht, Marilyn Monroe. Replacing the feverish surrealism of the original text with figures such as these, Øyno seems to suggest that Artaud’s ecstatic brew has equally illuminating counterparts in our historical and cultural canon. Of the original The Spurt of Blood, only the opening dialogue between two young lovers has remained. In Artaud’s play, the lovers are interrupted by a whirlwind of mythical proportions, which ends with a scarab falling down on stage with an “exasperating, nauseating slowness”.
In Theatre of Cruelty’s production, this particular motif translates into the entire performance: a declining world of grotesque characters, prickling with pretence or agony. The performance takes shape of an exigent process of self-uncovering, sensations reverberating from one character to another and triggering aggressive confrontations. The overall effect is that of a slow-mo horror cabinet, or an infinitely sustained death throe. The Spurt of Blood has become both a tragic love story and a brief history of modern love, narrated in hallucinatory images that emerge from one another, as in a dream.
Disturbing dreamscapes make up a fierce short story (…) dark and misty, like the anxiety Artaud himself must have experienced. With the help of movement, sound, light, songs and music, tableaus evolve around the themes of falsehood and reality, dread and denial, love and cruelty, life and death.
The Spurt of Blood both irritates and fascinates with its jagged idiom and its direct narrative style. And Artaud is not easily captured. But the gravity of his theories and texts concerning the relationship between darkness and light, greed and innocence, devotion and loathing, death and being –
it all comes assertively across in this production.
Elisabeth Rygg, Aftenposten
Challenging, stringent avant chamber play. An experiment in visual dramaturgy and repetition rituals; an exploration of emotions in a dark, open space. The progression is slow, the effect mesmerising. The dreamlike quality of the tableaus is strong, and actors attend to their roles with intensity. Lars Øyno
possesses a remarkable, visual theatrical gift.A visit to Grusomhetens Teater is each time an encounter with something entirely unique in Norwegian theatre. This production manifests a further exploration of their idiom.
Andreas Wiese, Dagbladet
A powerful dramatic performance satiated with expressiveness (…) comes rarely close to the French theatre legend Antonin Artaud. Øyno and the ensemble use all available space and speak in gestures and voices that result in strong visual statements and poignant scenes.
Jørgen Alnæs, Dagsavisen
There is something captivating about the monotonous and desperate brutality that the characters act out against each other on stage. In spite of endless repetitions, I am eagerly present and, to my bewilderment, responsible for the fact that this massive darkness and cruelty neither distresses nor
IdaLou Larsen, scenekunst.no