Vienna, 1938. The Nazis have invaded Austria and are persecuting the Jews. Sigmund Freud is still confident in the future and refuses to leave. But on this April evening, the Gestapo arrest his daughter Anna and take her for questioning. Freud remains alone and desperate, when, suddenly, a stranger enters through the window. The visitor, a frivolous and cynical dandy in tuxedo and top hat, has some incredible things to say. Who is he? A mad man? A magician? Is this merely a dream? Is he an embodiment of our perception of Freud's subconscious? Or is he really, as he claims, God in person? Like Freud himself, each of us will have to decide, in the course of this serious, crazy evening, who this visitor really is.
« When I finished writing The Visitor... »
When I finished writing The Visitor, I read it, as I usually do, to my family and friends. Two of them told me it was brilliant but the third one said he hadn't been in the least interested. Naturally, he was the one whose advice I followed. I buried the play at the back of a drawer without even putting a dried flower on it. Several months later, thanks to the persistence of my two friends, thanks to the curiosity of a stage director and to the enthusiasm of a producer, The Visitor was at last put on.We rehearsed in August 1993 and the performance happened by chance (we were replacing another show), because François Chantenay, the producer, had rented the theatre and had to produce something in it at all costs.The whole company believed in the play. Gérard Vergez directed with rare passion and demanding actors: Maurice Garrel, Thierry Fortineau and Josiane Stoléru. Every time there was a break, they kept telling me how much they responded to the text and assuring me of their faith in the great stir it was going to create. I kept silent, apparently out of modesty, but really because I was cowardly and overcautious. I was sure they were all mistaken, that the play would be a flop and that in less than two months they would cross the street to avoid me. When The Visitor opened on September 21 1993, my fears proved right. Only two people in the audience had paid for their seats: my parents, who had insisted on not being invited. The press attaché had not succeeded in getting any articles in the newspapers in advance and not a single critic had agreed to come for the previews. They were only interested in writing about the shows everyone wanted to see. Only one solution was left: to invite people. To begin with, it was hard to get an audience and then, when people learnt it was free, the house started to fill up. Flattering comments began to be passed around by word of mouth. Theatre professionals were carried away by the play. Drawn by the increasing rumours, journalists came and wrote wonderful reviews. Finally, it was the turn of the TV and radio people. I was their guest in their best programmes. After two months, the house was full every night. We had become 'the' show everyone had to see in town. I had become the sensation of the year and I was awarded three Molières (French theatrical awards and the equivalent of the Tony Awards).The play is still a success in every theatre where it is on. So many different productions, so many different actors; the text holds the record for being the bestseller in contemporary theatre (more than 40,000 copies have been sold up to now) and this is just the beginning. I was the first to be surprised. And I still am, although I have joined the ranks of those who adore The Visitor. I wrote the play in total solitude, in answer to some private need, and I thought it so intimate, so personal that I could not think it would ever be appreciated by anyone other than my most obliging friends. How can we believe in God today? How can we still believe in God in a world where horror goes hand in hand with abomination, where bombs kill and where racial discrimination is more rife than ever before? A world in which different sorts of camps are created, some to re-educate, others to exterminate. In short, how can we believe in God at the end of the 20th century during which so many slaughters have been so methodically arranged? How can we believe in God in the face of Evil? In philosophy, we call this 'theodicy' (to put God on trial), and we do it every day: faced with a suffering child; when illness takes someone we love away from us; when we are confronted with the fanaticism of those who kill in the name of their God; watching the telly that brings us cries and pain from all over the world. One evening, I started weeping while I was watching the news. It was no worse than the previous evening. It was the daily procession of crimes and injustice, but that evening, I wasn't merely trying to listen and to understand the news, I was feeling it, bleeding with my body with the whole world. All this violence was like ear-splitting noises. I felt so depressed being a man. I told myself: "How broken-spirited God must be if he watches the 8 o'clock news!" I even felt some compassion for this God whose existence I feel so uncertain about. I kept thinking: "If God is having a bad fit of depression, what can He do? What can the remedy be? Whom can He go to?" And immediately, I had the picture right in my mind: God lying on Freud's couch. Then, came another one: Freud on God's couch. The intellectual stimulus soon made me dry my tears and I began to exult. How many things God and Freud must have to say to each other given that they agree on nothing! Not an easy dialogue, since neither of the two believes in the other. The idea started to grow in me and I lived with it for several years. It finally left me when I started writing the play. Triumph was a lesson in humility. What I had presumptuously thought would only interest me, interested thousands of people. Going deep inside myself, I found, not myself, but humanity. Sincerity is a form of humanism. To doubt, to change your mind, to pass from hope to despair, not to know is no weakness: it is to be human. I learnt that everyone recognizes themselves in the twists and turns of The Visitor. The Jews see the play as a Hassidic meditation; the Christians see it as some Pascalian play about a hidden God; atheists recognize their cry of despair. It also means that everyone listens to opinions that are not theirs. Whoever you are, when you see the play, you are faced with otherness.And for me, that is what matters most. Who is this visitor? God or a madman? One of Freud's dreams? Is the play merely the internal reflections of an old man? Everyone is at liberty to choose. My answer is no better than any other. But you can find it if you read the text very carefully. The play clears the ground for faith but doesn't go any further. If you do, it means that you believe. You are free to do so. But you cannot share this experience.If I went beyond that threshold, The Visitor would stop being a philosophical play. It would become a propaganda play, which is what I hate most. It would miss its aim, which is to offer something to think about as well as to feel. And, as for the friend who advised me not to publish the play, he is still close to me, even closer. Sometimes we've talked and laughed about the death he wished on The Visitor. He doesn't say, but I know through other people, that today, he knows the greatest speeches of the play by heart. Grenada, Spain, January 16th 2000Eric-Emmanuel-Schmitt
La Tribune Juive - « The Visitor »
Superb! Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's The Visitor is remarkable both for the writing andfor the players' performances. Against a background that recreates the atmosphere of Freud's study in Vienna, Schmitt has mixed elements of fiction with true facts from the life of the father of psychoanalysis. The action takes place in 1938. Germany has already invaded Austria and the Jews are being hounded and beaten in the streets, their flats and houses sacked by the Nazis. When the play opens, it is March 22 and Freud's daughter, Anna, is taken away for questioning at the Metropole Hotel where the Gestapo have their headquarters. A true episode, this was to be Freud's worst experience. But imagination comes into play with the intrusion, through Freud's window, of an appealing and slightly eccentric young man claiming to be God. From this moment on, the play veers between laughter and tears. The 'pilpul ' (1) into which God has thrown Freud is punctuated by the tragedy of thousands of arrests and suicides and the endless comings and goings of an irresistible and crazy Nazi with a good nose for spotting Jews. Which of the two is responsible for so much chaos? Is it God who for the love of man has granted them a total but foolish freedom, or Freud who, out of sheer lucidity, has always tried to convince people to become atheists? Humour quickly prevails, however, preventing the gravity of the situation from becoming burdensome - that Jewish humour which is at once a way of life complete with a code of good manners, and an act of resistance. For example, when Freud is reluctantly about to sign a testimonial to help his family leave Austria in which he has to attest that the Nazis never ill-treated him, he adds the following words: "I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to everyone." Maybe not the Gestapo, but this play, certainly!Thierry Zalic(1) Pilpul: a conflicting discussion in the Yeshiva.
Le Monde - « The Visitor »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is the most perfect example of what a student from the Ecole Normale Supérieure should be: he has a degree in Philosophy, his doctoral thesis was on Diderot and Metaphysics and he has a talent for combining ambition and its concomitant seriousness with an elegant style and radiant wit. Olivier Schmitt
Télérame - « The Visitor »
A dialogue between two people who apparently should never have met. Didn't Freud deny the existence of God throughout his life and try to prove that God was only the result of man's deepest anxieties? Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt uses the magic of the stage to avoid with supreme elegance all the pedantries and all the clichés, reconciling what was supposed to be incompatible and bringing the Creator face to face with His creation. What a fine duet, full of barbed remarks, suspense and irony. What a treat for both mind and soul. The conversation between Freud and God is facetious and exquisitely insolent. It enables Schmitt to deal casually with the most impenetrable mysteries and the most serious topics. Fabienne Pascaud
Le Canard Enchaîné - « The Visitor »
Intelligence, finesse and lucidity: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, after his Don Juan On Trial, is like a first-rate formula-one driver. His new play is so enjoyably thrilling and exciting for our cerebral convolutions that it has become difficult to find new superlatives to qualify it. The theme is daring and dangerous: when the play opens, good old Dr Freud (played by a remarkable Maurice Garrel), has been ill for some time. He is about to be persuaded to leave Vienna, now under the heel of the Nazis. That evening, a strange visitor calls on him: probably a madman, some guy who thinks he is God. And yet...The Nazi officer (Joel Barbouth is excellent), who keeps harassing Freud and his daughter Anna (brilliant, Josiane Stoleru), inadvertently gives the doctor a clue: the real madman who escaped from an asylum and was being sought by the police has just been arrested. From this point on, against a background of gathering satanism, bestiality, and the triumph of obscurantism, while Anna is being held prisoner by the Gestapo without knowing if she will be released, a sparkling debate unfolds on human freedom, injustice and the human condition. We see what we really are: rabbits marked by invisible and unknown hunters, condemned to live in the knowledge that one day we will be shot without knowing when. Thierry Fortineau plays God, a shrewd and kind one, especially in his ambiguities. He is so convincing that one could forgive him for existing. Fortineau proves that you can play a useless hypothesis and be a wonderful actor. Schmitt's Almighty in a tuxedo appears so powerless before the foolishness committed by His homo sapiens, that He deserves our total indulgence. Does He, in fact, exist? Schmitt tries to convince us by showing Him in flesh and blood. But we know perfectly well that the stage is nothing but a world of illusions. So nothing is really proved. I do not know what Brother Jean Froissard thinks of it (1), but I can be sure of one thing: there is a new playwright in town, I have met him.1.Jean Froissard is a Catholic writer and a journalist. His most famous book is God Exists: I Have Met Him. Bernard Thomas
Le Point - « The Visitor »
There was Faust and Mephistopheles. Now, we have a strange confrontation between two worlds: our world and the hereafter. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, 33, has succeeded in writing much more than another play stuffed with catchphrases. His The Visitor contains some splendid, high-scoring lyricism as well as some true, deep and shrewd statements about God.
Le Quotidien de Paris - « The Visitor »
From hard-to-believe fiction to a meditation based on established facts, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt lures us along precipitous pathways. But the surrounding landscape is stunning and the dialogue between Freud and his visitor is of the best, dealing with all the great scientist's favourite themes and all the problems that haunted his research and discoveries, together with the metaphysical treatments that concern every one of us in our relationship with the world. Their tête-à -tête is a sheer delight, yet it is also deeply perturbing and bewildering because the dialogue speaks to us so intimately. A very beautiful play with a gravity of its own that nevertheless affords plenty of laughs, because the mysterious character has such bewitching malice and guile and because the witticisms in the play come so naturally. Armelle Héliot
La Parisien - « The Visitor »
A new playwright, some amazing actors and enthralling dialogue. The Visitor is without doubt the most intelligent play to be seen at the moment. With his first play, Don Juan On Trial, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt wrote a decidedly promising piece of work. With The Visitor, he has more than fulfilled these promises. The scene is set at Freud's home in Vienna on the worst evening of the scientist's life. Everything around him seems to be on the verge of collapse: as a Jew, he finds himself at the heart of the murderous, anti-Semitic storm; as an Austrian citizen, he is witnessing the downfall of his country; as a humanist, he is the helpless spectator of a barbaric invasion. Furthermore, Freud knows that his cancer doesn't leave him much time and Anna, his beloved daughter, has just been arrested by the Nazis. It is at this moment that a carefree, smiling young man, dressed in a tuxedo that gives him the air of a magician, pops up out of nowhere like a Jack-in-the-box. He has plenty to say and seems to know everything there is to know about Freud: his past, present, and even his future. But who is this man? A lunatic escaped from an asylum, a mythomaniac, a joker or even a secret agent sent to compromise him? And why not God in person as he now and again implies? Naturally, Freud is far too much of an atheist to believe this. But no matter; he agrees to listen to his strange visitor and even agrees to enter into discussion with him. So much the better for us, since we become the privileged witnesses of a duel of minds between an absorbed, tense Dr Freud, who uses reason alone to argue and this total stranger, who wields a devastating sense of humour. Who will be the winner of this thrilling debate? The spectator of course! Garrel's Freud is moving and convincing opposite Thierry Fortineau, visibly delighted at sowing doubt in the mind of the man who opened up new ways of thinking. These two outstanding actors should not make us forget the beautiful performances of Josiane Stoléru and Joel Barbouth, with a special tribute to Vergez's stage direction. An unmitigated success. André Lafargue
Hairline - « The Visitor »
Good theatre should have resonance, inspiring thought and evoking emotion. With a strong cast and profound script, The Visitor rises to meet this standard.Set in 1938 Nazi-occupied Vienna, the play debates some timeless philosophical questions such as ‘Does God Exist?’ and ‘What is God’s responsibility for the actions of Man?’ With such complex themes it would be easy for this play to become lost within its own intricate plot. The 121 Theatre Company, though, have not only navigated this maze but have the skill to exploit its depth to their advantage.This adaptation of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s Le Visiteur finds Sigmund Freud wrestling with the decision of whether or not to flee Vienna and the implications this may have. With his daughter being interrogated by the Gestapo and the weight of the decision he must make bearing down upon him, Freud cries out in anguish. His cries are seemingly answered by the appearance of a strange man, clad in tuxedo and top hat, his frivolous garb in stark contrast to the grim reality at play just outside the building.Is this stranger God or merely a trickster? That question is left for the audience to decide, what is tackled here is God’s existence and his responsibility for the actions of those he has both created and empowered.The cast of this play are all accomplished actors, worthy and adept enough to handle the intricacies of even this complex piece. Despite the wealth of talent displayed by his fellow actors, it is Duncan Lumsden who takes ownership of the play through his role as God/the trickster.His emotional range and ability to convincingly straddle the duality of his character is truly astounding. It is his performance more than anything else that gives this play its credibility.The Visitor will make believers question their devotion and lead atheists to the contemplation of the Divine. This play works through your mind to touch your soul.Matthew Straw
British Theatre Guide - « The Visitor »
Against the background of Vienna racked by the Nazi takeover, Sigmund Freud is debating whether or not he should accept the offer of escape to Britain with his daughter on condition that he sign a paper stating that he has been well treated and has seen no sign of persecution of the Jews, even though he and everyone else knows of the activities of the Gestapo and the camps. Anna wants him to agree, as does the American embassy, but he is unsure. And then a visitor arrives, dressed in immaculate evening dress, with a twinkle in his eye and an air of amusement about him. This is God. He must be - no one else can see him and he just appears and disappears from within the house, not through the front door. There is, however, another possibility... We never learn, however, and that is part of the conundrum.With continuous intimidation from a Gestapo officer and persuasion from his daughter and the mysterious visitor, Freud eventually agrees to sign and leave. In between the bulk of the piece is taken up with the interplay between Freud and his visitor in dialogue which sparkls with intellectual energy.It's a play which needs concentration but it well repays the effort, and is superbly performed.Peter Lathan
The Scotsman - « The Visitor »
**** SUSAN MANSFIELD HILL STREET THEATRE (VENUE 41) APRIL 1938. In Nazi-occupied Vienna, Sigmund Freud nears the end of his life. Defiantly optimistic, he refuses to sign the papers which will let his family escape. But one night his beloved daughter Anna is taken for questioning by the Gestapo - and a visitor in evening dress arrives in his study. Who is this smartly dressed, articulate man who didn't even bother to ring the doorbell? Is he an escaped lunatic? An imposter? A patient? Or is he, as he claims to be, God incarnate? But Freud is an atheist and he's ready with some questions of his own: what is God up to when "evil is in the street in jackboots?". Eric-Emmanuel Schmidt's beautiful play, performed by Brussels-based 121 Theatre in a new English translation, takes one man in one moment in history and through him explores much larger questions of faith, memory, love and political resistance. It is a feast of ideas, as well as being a careful examination of what happens when ideas are no longer enough. Colin Black is magnificent as Freud, poised between strength and vulnerability, invigorated by the chance to parry ideas with a man who is his intellectual equal. Duncan Lumsden, as the Stranger, flashes through a rainbow of moods, from playful to despairing, while Liz Ross and Lucas Tavenier play excellent supporting roles. Schmitt's elegant, poetic language is beautifully captured by translators Michel Didier and Liz Merrill, who also directs. The play is reminiscent of much of Tom Stoppard's work in its delight in ideas, facility with language and deep-seated humanity. Schmitt brings us Freud not as a psychoanalyst but as a clever and contrary man, one minute defiant, the next doubting the whole of his life's work: after all, what use is it to treat one patient when the world is running mad? Above all, it gives us an absorbing portrait of a man who would parry ideas when life and death are at stake, and still enjoy the argument.
The Stage - Edinburgh - « The Visitor »
**** - Duska Radosavljevic - Mon 21 Aug 2006There is something refreshingly old-fashioned about this piece of theatre and it’s nothing to do with the carpeted set and meticulous costuming. Although written in 1993, it actually taps into the kind of theatre that had long gone out of favour with the British audiences by virtue of being contemplative rather than strictly speaking entertaining. This new translation of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s unashamedly philosophical play - its subjects are Freud himself and a mysterious visitor who could be a madman or a god - is so delightfully witty that it brings to mind the effortless mastery of Wilde and Shaw. Demonstrating the ways in which the best humour and supreme intelligence share a making of connections, this piece is also a perfectly easy introduction to the essentials of Freud beyond the confines of popular knowledge and a means of examining one’s own beliefs. Duncan Lumsden’s exhuberant performance as the visitor helps to some extent but this beautifully written play is also brimming with quotable lines and pearls of wisdom which you want to collect and relish for a long time afterwards.