Award-winning French actor Alexis Moncorgé could have had it easy by taking up the pseudonym of his late grandfather, Jean Gabin, considered one of the greatest figures in French cinema. Instead, he chose to pave his own road by using his birth name. And it certainly was worth it. After two years of touring France, he now brings his acclaimed play, Amok, to Malaysia in conjunction with Le French Festival 2018.
Moncorgé, 32, stumbled upon the similarly titled Stefan Zweig novella three years ago while searching for a monologue to perform, one that he “never could find”. He remembers that he was heading back from a day at the theatrical library and “decided to read this short story I had never read before. It was love at first sight. Page by page, my passion heightened for the story, and I knew I had found [what] I wanted to play”.
As for what drew him to adapt it to the stage, he tells Options, “It is the ego clash between [two] European characters in the middle of a territory that is the complete opposite of [a] civilisation they were used to.”
The story of Amok, said to be influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, can be quite compelling. “You feel the humidity, the tropical fever, the alcohol, the smells and the atmosphere … I loved the sudden passion of this man that drives him to give his life for a woman — and on the other hand, the strength of this woman, the heroine, almost a martyr. The meeting between them is very unique,” says Moncorgé.
Right from the get-go, the actor envisioned that Amok would translate well and be good for the stage. It was as though how it was written made things easier for Moncorgé. “Everything was there: the dramatic past of the characters, the meeting with a mysterious figure, the chase, the [climax], the redemption … it is a tragedy. All the characters are psychologically well designed and that is a great gift for an actor.
“I wanted the staging to be as simple as possible, so the acting would be at the epicentre of it all. But thanks to the wonderful job of my lighting technician, the different places the story leads us to are recreated with the help of great lighting, which plays a crucial role in creating the sets and underlining the emotions and atmosphere.”
Unlike the novel, Moncorgé’s play does not feature a narrator; instead, the characters speak directly, thus catapulting the audience right into the story.
Running a show single-handedly can prove to be quite a task, but Moncorgé remains unfazed. “As an actor, I love challenges. I’m never satisfied with what I already know; I need to discover more and more. So a monologue is a big challenge. This play is very physical. I run, I fall, I fight and I dance, so I have to be in my best condition, while at the same time be fuelled by emotions and be in the moment for all the characters. Our work is very detailed and precise, which requires full concentration throughout the 90 minutes.
“This is the play I have worked on the most, for sure. I feel both myself and my character are growing up together over time while the entire play evolves too. It is fantastic,” he says, explaining how Amok differs from his past roles.
Moncorgé received the Molière Award for Amok in 2016. Did winning the national theatre award of France, said to be the equivalent of a Tony, turn out to be a game-changer for his career?
“Yes and no. Yes because it shines a light on you and your work, so people know you and identify you, and some may want to work with you even more. No because nothing is ever truly ‘done’ for good. I still have, more than ever, an impulse to create things, find new authors, new challenges … and not just in theatre.”
Moncorgé expresses his thoughts on how Malaysians could relate to Amok: “I love this sentence [by Roman playwright Terence], ‘Nothing that is human is foreign to me’. Theatre is the only place in the world that is completely free, where everything is possible and where the audience’s mind is also free. The play is set in Malaysia; it’s a story about two European characters written by a European, but their feelings are so human and universal.
“If watching this play makes the audience discover Zweig and makes them want to read his work, my job would be done.”
On his current projects, Moncorgé says: “I’ve just finished shooting a TV movie and am finishing my Amok tour. I have many theatrical projects lined up for next year, so I would like to focus on cinema before end-2018.”
'Amok' will be staged on May 4 and 5 at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre, Empire Damansara, Damansara Perdana. Tickets are priced at RM45 and RM50. Call (03) 4065 0001 for more information. This article first appeared on Apr 30, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.