Eric Bouvron and Benjamin Penamaria have created a smooth, low-tech stage biography, the central highlight of which is live music, with two musicians and a singer on stage. The artistic team clearly came to this story with good intentions. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret treaty of 1916 that outlined how the Ottoman lands would be divided between France and the United Kingdom, is explained and denounced. As in the movie, Lawrence is informed of the plan late and disagrees with it.
Still, this ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ doesn’t address the issues of portraying Arab history and culture through the eyes of a British colonial-era hero. While the show features some dialogue in Arabic, the frequent use of “Allahu akbar” as a rallying cry plays on Muslim caricatures, and a fake “Eastern” dance is rock bottom.
As the central character, Lawrence is portrayed as a master strategist, without whom the Arab leaders would not have achieved much. Lawrence’s close Arab friend, Daoum, speaks in tacky pidgin French that emphasizes his lack of education and manners, and follows Lawrence as an over-excited puppy.
It’s hard to see why anyone would want to reaffirm these dated perspectives today, but “Lawrence of Arabia” is in many ways typical of the production style favored in the French private sector. The stories are relentlessly cheerful and fast-paced, with regular visual jokes and puns; the characters are clearly captured, but often one-dimensional.
Its main purpose is clearly entertainment, and two of the other nominees for best private sector production are made from the same material: “The Race of Giants”, written and directed by Mélody Mourey, and Léna Bréban’s production of Shakespeare’s “As You Find the fun.”
At the Théâtre des Béliers Parisiens, “The Race of Giants” (until May 29) delves into the 20th-century space race, efficiently interweaving history and fiction. Mourey invents a brilliant but troubled astronaut, Jack Mancini, who joins NASA in the 1960s – only to be betrayed by a secret Soviet agent. The production makes inventive use of video and very few props, allowing for quick transitions and jumps in time.