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French director Caroline Guiela Nguyen likes to tell French stories that take place beyond France’s borders. In her compelling SAIGON, one of the hits at the Festival d’Avignon last summer, eleven French and Vietnamese actors depict a variety of interwoven stories about love and exile. The characters meet in a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris. Scenes switch between Paris and Saigon and between 1956, when the French were defeated in Dien Bien Phu and withdrew from Vietnam, and 1996, the year in which the United States put an end to the economic embargo and Vietnamese could visit the country again. Nguyen delves into the painful, shared history between France and Vietnam and translates this into universal theatre about the long-term consequences of warfare, migration and love.
‘In 2008, after directing several classic texts, I realised that some stories and people were missing from theatre stages. I wanted our shows to carry the noise of the world and I thought some
voices were missing.’
This is French director Caroline Guiela Nguyen’s answer to the question as to why she founded her own theatre group, Les Hommes Approximatifs. She felt the need for a more vital and relevant kind of theatre, a theatre that tells stories with which everyone can identify. So in 2009, with a number of other artists, she set up her own theatre group. Since that time Nguyen has been on a continuous quest for ‘French stories which take place outside the borders of France.’
For the show SAIGON she travelled to Vietnam and spent two years living in both Ho Chi Minh City and in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris, where many Vietnamese immigrants have settled. In both places she collected stories and anecdotes from generations of Vietnamese refugees and their descendants who divide their lives between France and Vietnam.
For many Vietnamese everything changed on 30 April 1975. That was the day on which Saigon fell, or was liberated, depending on your point of view. This day marked the end of the Vietnamese war and sparked hope for reunification of North and South Vietnam. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. A large number of South Vietnamese people who fought against the communists with the support of the United States, fled out of the country. These political and economic refugees are called Việt Kiều, which means something like ‘Vietnamese living abroad’. Many fled to France, Vietnam’s former coloniser. In the course of time many Việt Kiều or their descendants have returned to Vietnam. As a consequence families have been torn apart and lives broken up on both sides of the world. This is the story which SAIGON tells.
‘Ho Chi Minh City is full of stories of departure, of exile, it is full of people who are missing in their own families. There’s always someone to mourn, and our show is about finding this journey of tears again. Melodrama is omnipresent in the daily lives of the Vietnamese,’ Caroline Guiela Nguyen says.
At the same time the show presents the effects of war, migration and colonialism on the lives of ordinary French and Vietnamese people. The stories in Saigon are fictional, but are all based on the lives of real people. This is the kind of theatre Nguyen now wants to make, she says. Colonialism as such is not a theme in her work – she finds this term far too abstract and generalizing. But the effects of colonialism return time after time, in all their complexity, in the lives of the people she presents on the stage.
‘That’s how I want to respond to the colonial question as an artist: by inviting Vietnamese, French-Vietnamese, and French people, to write our stories with us so that people can see them, hear them, and for our world to broaden thanks to their presence.’
SAIGON had its world premiere in 2017 as part of the Avignon Festival. Caroline Guiela Nguyen makes her Holland Festival debut with this show.
After studying sociology at university Caroline Guiela Nguyen enrolled in the drama school of the National Theatre of Strasbourg to study direction. In 2009 she founded the theatre company Les
Hommes Approximatifs with Alice Duchange (scenographer), Benjamin Moreau (costume designer), Jérémie Papin (lighting designer), Mariette Navarro (writer and playwright), Antoine Richard (sound designer), Claire Calvi (artistic collaborator) and Juliette Kramer (Director of productions). However the company soon became dissatisfied with the impact and expressiveness of their first shows, which were based on the classic repertoire, and decided to change direction with the writing of original pieces. Their new shows focused on forgotten tales and lives, and presented people rarely seen on the stage. Since 2015 Caroline Guiela Nguyen has worked with Joël Pommerat at the Maison Centrale in Arles, notably on Désordre d'un futur passé and Marius. Pommerat’s Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis was in performance at the Holland Festival in 2016. Caroline Guiela Nguyen is also associated with the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, with the MC2: Grenoble, and the Comédie de Valence, National Centre of Dramatic Art, Drôme-Ardèche.
- Caroline Guiela Nguyen & artistiek team
- Caroline Guiela Nguyen
- artistic collaborator
- Claire Calvi
- set designer
- Alice Duchange
- costume designer
- Benjamin Moreau
- light designer
- Jérémie Papin
- sound designer
- Antoine Richard
- Teddy Gauliat-Pitois, Antoine Richard
- Jérémie Scheidler, Manon Worms
- Duc Duy Nguyen
- script consultant
- Nicolas Fleureau
- Caroline Arrouas, Dan Artus, Adeline Guillot, Thi Truc Ly Huynh, Hoàng Son Lê, Phú Hau Nguyen, My Chau Nguyen Thi, Pierric Plathier, Thi Thanh Thu Tô, Anh Tran Nghia, Hiep Tran Nghia
- Les Hommes Approximatifs, La Comédie de Valence, CDN-Drôme Ardèche
- with support from
- Institut Français