- Special Pages
By Isabel Ovalle
The intense life of Victor Hugo is the inspiration and plot of a play starring twenty students of French Lycée Bonaparte, the oldest French school in Doha. The cast is a diverse group of teenagers led by Pierre Larrieu, teacher at the school since it opened in 1994.
From his birth in 1802 until 1845, when the famed author turned from a Catholic monarchist to a freethinking republican, the play, titled Victor Hugo, the Ocean Man, covers, in approximately an hour and a half, the ups and downs in Hugo’s career and personal life.
Larrieu wrote the script for the play, which mixes Arabic and French. Taking part in the play is an option the students have in the school curriculum. They rehearse two hours a week and are very aware of the life of Hugo, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, among other novels, poems and plays.
Camille, a 16-year-old Lebanese-French student, will play Théophile Gautier, one of Hugo’s closes friends and a renowned poet and defender of Romanticism. Acting is a hobby he pursues in his free time; however, he’s enthusiastic about the play and sees in it a chance to learn more about the French writer.
“We don’t read Victor Hugo as much as I would like, but we had to study his works when we studied the death penalty,” he said. The author was strongly against capital punishment, and spoke and wrote about it many times when he was a deputy.
One of the acts of the play shows a speech the author delivered in the assembly, which has been translated into Arabic. Abdulrahman, a 17-year-old Qatari student, will take part in this scene. “It’s a small role and it’s the first time I will perform in a play,” he said. Memorising the lines was not difficult for him as he is fluent in French after over a decade in the Lycée Bonaparte, Arabic, his mother tongue, and English.
The main role, of portraying the author, has been distributed between two students, who play the older Victor Hugo, who narrates the story as he writes his memoirs, and the young Victor Hugo, played by Ayman. This 18-year-old has participated in theatre since he was nine. Even though he is a pro by now, together with his peers he receives guidance and training from his teacher.
“There’s a lot of interaction, everyone gives their idea and the final product is a result of the work of the group,” he explained. Ayman will take part in three scenes, including when Hugo comes to know of the tragic death of his daughter, Léopoldine.
The writer’s oldest daughter died while he was travelling around France. While going through a newspaper in a café, he read a report about the death of his child, who drowned in a boat accident. Léopoldine was pregnant at the time and travelling with her husband, who also drowned while attempting to save her.
Ayman, who doesn’t rule out pursuing an acting career, will also take part in a scene showing a part of Hernani, one of the most popular plays by Hugo, in which the main characters, Don Carlos, king of Spain, and Doña Sol, a noblewoman, have a big fight. Hernani served as inspiration for Verdi’s opera Ernani.
The play also features an emotive reading of a poem about the desert. In this part, Sara, a 16-year-old French student, recites the verses dressed in typical Qatari clothes. Her friend Fatima, also 16, introduces ballet in the show. The young student has been dancing since she was 12, and will play an angel who gives a flower to Hugo.
Other works by Hugo referred to in the play will be Ruy Blas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and speeches about peace given by the author during his period as a deputy.
The play will be followed by a recital of some of Hugo’s poems by André Pomarat, an actor from France.
The play will be staged at 6pm on February 19 at the theatre Al Rayyan, located in Al Mirqab Hotel in Souq Waqif. Audience will be by invitation, but others can attend by paying an entrance fee of around QR50.The Peninsula