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Over-the-top and Jubilatory: Grand Magasin, a praiseworthy adventure

By Jean-Pierre Thibaudat | Journalist | 22/10/2010 | 16H00



You can find just about everything in Grand Magasin’s shows, but first what we like: craziness, the unexpected, playfulness and, as always, an unparalleled way of playing with the logic of facts, gestures, objects and everything else to the point of absurdity.


In the company of those who defy categorization

You’ll love the show put on by the unclassifiable artists, Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler if…


  • · you like Georges Perec (beginning with “Les Choses”),
  • · you have a special spot in your library reserved for Lewis Carroll’s “The Game of Logic”,
  • · you were a fan of Pierre Desproges’s “minutes necessaries de monsieur Cyclopède”,
  • · you aren’t indifferent to “L’Encyclopédie capricieuse du tout et du rien” by Charles Dantzig, or Pierre Bayard’s works,
  • · you never get tired of the films of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati (whom Grand Magasin is presently referencing),
  • · you love visiting Eric Chevillard’s blog.


In a word, if you like theatre that isn’t theatre.

Their latest opus, “prepared and finalized” with the wonderful Bettina Atala, who joined the duo, has fdor its title, “Les Déplacements du problème”. A trio, a golden triangle, triplets out of nowhere… Let’s stop being biased: the problem with speaking about this show without revealing its exquisite events, is that one must speak about it without speaking about it. In other words, one must say nothing whilst saying everything, beginning with everything we like about it.



Let’s just say that, since 1982, they function perfectly together as a duo, François Hiffler loves the color green, usually shunned from the stage out of superstition, while Pascale Murtin adores Buskin-style shoes, colored stockings and a hairstyle that she must have patented since she is the only person in the world to have her hair like that.

Time seems to have slid off their backs without touching them, as if being strong in the degree zero of irony-free art has preserved them in an undisturbed jar of formaldehyde. Almost thirty years after they began, they still look like children caught red-handed in the schoolyard. Moreover, some of their performances resemble classes or demonstrations of products (household and others).


The hilarious sounds of Ircam

This is what you will find in “Les Déplacements du problème”. Initially commissioned by the Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music), which proves that this institution, despite its air of seriousness and state-of-the-art technology, also has a sense of humor. The three accomplices that make up Grand Magasin accepted the commission – sound plays an important role in the show – but by displacing it:


“At the time, we asked ourselves some fundamental questions: am I understood when I speak? Have I truly understood something when I believe I have? Have I truly understood nothing when I think that’s the case?”

This is what they write in the succinct program handed out to the audience. The show, which has an answer for everything, answers these questions and many others with the help of machines and hare-brained objects:


  • · the absorbing rug
  • · the circle of inattention
  • · the untimely vacuum
  • · automatic hesitation
  • · the contradicting mic


This last device – my favorite – appears like the ideal Christmas gift for our elected officials and politicians. No, don’t ask me to explain what the names of these rare birds might mean. I won’t say another word.


Grand Magasin, Complete works

If one day, a well-advised theatre or festival director commissioned Grand Magasin for a retrospective in the form of an anthology of their works from, let’s say the last 25 years, we would see that these players have been peerless in their capacity to grasp and travel through their era, to grab it by the scruff of its banality, polish the mirror of its tautologies, extract the substantive marrow of its mundaneness, and share all of it with us, in all modesty and in all simplicity, on a stage.

Les Déplacements du problème by Grand Magasin at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale[/one_half_last]