The central subject of Anna Furse‘s new play is a young 19th century
Frenchwoman who was ‘treated‘ by the famous neurologist Charcot as a
grande h ysterique. Furse came across
the case while researching another play. and was so struck by it that she followed the story to the Charcot library at Paris‘s Salpetriere Hospital. where she was shown Augustine‘s minutely detailed medical records.
A servant‘s daughter. Augustine‘s traumatic childhood was the cause of her later illness — she was brutally punished for rebelliousness and was regularly sexually abused from the age of thirteen by her mother‘s employer. Threatened with death if she told anyone. she developed hysterical symptoms - paralysis. abdominal pains and violent fits. Referred to Charcot. Augustine was kept incarcerated in an asylum for five years. regularly drugged and bound. and had her attacks almost fetishistically recorded on paper and film. During this time she became a kind of freak-show star at Charcot's popular public lectures. Eventually she escaped, dressed as a man. and disappeared.
‘I was very intrigued by the theatricality of her story.‘ says Furse. explaining what attracted her to the subject. ‘I found her very compelling. and her story very relevant to today in literal terms, but also metaphorically. or symbolically — the idea that she was driven
madder by her so-called healers. and l
the way she eventually escaped; she‘s almost saying that to be free.
she has to disguise herself as male. Something I came across recently was also fascinating. about Sarah Bernhardt. who‘s mentioned a couple of times in the play. A new biography reveals that she was actually a patient ofCharcot‘s, and that ifshe hadn‘t been an actress she would have been a hysteric; there‘s evidence of abuse in her background. too. It‘s almost like the madonna/whore thing— Sarah Bernhardt becomes a celebrated artiste. and Augustine becomes this trampled-on freak.‘
Furse takes a few liberties with history. bringing Freud into the action (he didn't study with Charcot until a decade later). setting up a triangular dialectic between him. Charcot and Augustine to open up the theme oftrauma and neurosis. ‘I
think it‘s quite timely.‘ she says. ‘with all this stuff in the news about child abuse. there‘s a lot of resonance in that. But I hope there are other levels of meaning as well. for instance I think there‘s something about the relationship between nature and science. feminine and masculine. which is very contemporary in terms of how people are starting to look at things. politically and philosophically. in a more holistic way. I think the message is that ifscientists continue to abuse their subject matter, we have no future; it's that kind of science which has got us into the mess we‘re in today.‘ (Sue Wilson) I Augustine (Big Hysteria) (Fringe) Paines Plough. Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550. 19-31 Aug. 2.30pm.
. mim- Keeping Mum
Imagine a theatrical world where toilet paper expresses emotions, where giant disembodied hands part the curtains and play with members oi the audience, where an outsize electric plug and socket chase each other around the stage before Iinally achieving union: such is the wonderiui world oi Mummenschanz. Mime it is (sort oi); white laces, black tights and solemnin it ain‘t. Forget angst-ridden artistes trapped in imaginary boxes; the Swiss troupe’s show is an extravagant, iun-iilied, completely silent lantasy, incorporating mime, human puppetry and outlandish iace (and body masks.
Mummenschanz have often been said to create a ‘universal ianguage’; co-iounder Andres Bossard describes it as a ‘language without language' which cuts through the modern world's many communication barriers. Certainly they have delighted audiences irom Bombay to New York and beyond; In New York the mayor presented them with a ‘Certiiicate at
Appreciation' for ‘creating a unique and joyous adventure by broadening the boundaries at an art iorm.’ Founded in 1969, the company's name is derived irom a term coined by Bauhaus tirtistOskarSchiemmerto describe relations between human beings and space when the body‘s contours are abstracted, distancing it Irom individual personality. The company‘s work is strongly inﬂuenced by modern visual art; the ligures created by the actors occupy much the same universe as those oi Paul Klee or Joan Miro, creating a kind at human kinetic sculpture. Butthe show's serious content (another co-iounder,
Bernie Schurch, has said that all their stories have ‘a cultural, educational,
social and political basis') is invariably
presented with a startling and quirky humour, the company's lack oi po-iacedness is indicated by the iact
that they last appeared in Edinburgh with the Muppets. It you thought at the Swiss as a nation oi bankers and watchmakers, come and let Mummenschanz change yourmind. (Sue Wilson) The Best oi Mummenschanz (International Festival) Empire Theatre, 225 5756.17 Aug 3pm, 8pm; 19, 20 Aug 2.30pm; 21 Aug 2.30pm,
’_ 7.30pm. 25.504210.
: The Strange Voyage
‘ (Fringe) Castle Players, Pilmeny Community
Centre (Venue 79) 554
3) 220 4349. 19—30 .4 try. I 2pttl,f0[7([5 m. i
Sue Wilson surveys the cream at after-lunch entertainment.
I Augustine (Big Hysteria) Based on the true-life story ofa 19th century grande hysterique and her medical maltreatment. Anna Furse's play explores issues of science and nature, madness and sanity. and the effects of childhood trauma. Augustine (Big Hysteria) (Fringe) Paines Plough. Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550,19—31Aug,2.30pm. £6/£6.50 (£5/£5.50).
.1 - I The Bestoi f Mummenschanz Weird and l wacky Swiss ensemble present the ‘universal language‘ oftheir mime/dance/puppetry- based show, complete with striking face and body masks.
The Bestof Mummenschanz (International Festival) Empire Theatre, 225 5756.17 Aug. 3pm. 8pm; 19. 20 Aug 2.30pm;21 Aug 2.30pm. 7.30pm, £5.50—£10.
I The Strange Voyage The Castle Players present the true-life story ofa round-the-world yachtsman and his tormented inner and outer journeys.
0953. unti131 Aug (not 19,
25), 1.30pm, £4.50(£4). IOUIDBCkAn exotic . cocktailofdidgeridoo, I guitar and percussion. ] inﬂuenced by rhythms from around the world. Outback (Fringe) St j John's Church (Venue 1 127) until/7Aug. 6pm; 19-24Aug, 1pm, £5 (£4). I Workshop Negative A chance re-encounter between two young Zimbabweans from l opposite sides ofthc , liberation struggle sets the . scene for a powerful f cxaminationofanintcnse love-hate relationship. Workshop .N'egutit't' (Fringe) Amuk/mxi ‘ Theatre Company. , Assentth Rooms ( l'i'nm'
The arvos. as our Antlpodean iriends call them. are lust right lot a spot at post-prandiai (co-er) Fringe-going.
The List 10— 33 August [WI 27