Drama Department, University of Hull, February 2005.
Attempting to find a contemporary interpretation of Jarry's fin-de-siecle anarchic spirit, this production combined a range
of performance and presentational modes; film, video and puppetry alongside conventional acting.
The original inspiration to attempt the adaptation sprang from the description given by Robert Hughes, in The Shock of the
New, of the race of a five-man bicycle against a locomotive across Siberia; the race ultimately being won by a mysterious
Further investigation turned up still more complex challenges: these included the technical, as in the attempt to provoke
emotion through use of the electric chair; the aesthetic, as in passages speculating, Jarry-like, on the nature of God; and
political and ideological, particularly stemming from the explicit and exuberant sexuality of the novella.
Many questions arose:
In an academic context, should (written) texts be presented as faithfully as possible to their originals, to provide 'specimens'
for interrogation and analysis, or should we find ways to challenge and interrogate works historically and/or ideologically
'distanced' from contemporary beliefs and values. Is there any consensus on such beliefs and values?
What performance practices might provide such subversions ?
Oriiginally intended as a small-scale, studio performance, The Supermale was eventually staged as a public performance. It
provoked an immediate controversy, for some reasons which might have been predicted, and some which came as a surprise.
Four passages were likely -even certain - to provoke strong reactions:
The opening discussion of sex, and the comparison of sexual 'supermen' from history and
The policeman's account of the murder -"raped to death" of a little girl
The prostitutes' seven-way lesbian orgy
The extended and extremely explicit sex scene between Andre and Ellen, in which they
break the 'record' set by the "Indian".
This paper gives an evaluative account of the challenges posed and the strategies adopted, some of which may best be
expressed in the terminology of rhetoric; in particular, anachronism, anachorism, litotes and hyperbole.
The paper describes how these were applied, both through the spoken language of the text, and through visual means. Some
further questions which arise are:
What happens when a joke doesn't work, or has to be explained?
Can an idea be simultaneously celebrated and subverted, as in the 'alternating current' of an electric circuit?
And….how do you make an electric chair fall in love with a man?
University of Hull