Angélica Liddell considers it an artist’s duty to be a pariah. The controversial Spanish writer, director and performance artist wants her audience to share humanity’s vices and the unexpected beauty she finds in them. In The Scarlet Letter she focuses on contemporary sexual mores. The performance is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s eponymous novel – a work about sin, punishment and reconciliation. In this provocative cry of anguish Liddell reminds us that humanity finds its foundation in the guilt of the first man. It is Liddell’s offering to the ultimate freedom of the artist.
The 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, which forms the basis for the theatre production of the same name by Angélica Liddell, is one of the best-known and most-read works of American literature.
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne sets the story in the Puritanical Boston of the 17th century, where young Hester Prynne is on trial for adultery. After not having seen her husband in years, she has a baby from a secret affair. That’s a sin according to the Bible, and is considered a disgrace to society. Hester is sentenced to wear the letter ‘A’ for adultery on her clothes and is banished from the community. After years of remaining silent, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, tortured by guilt and love, confesses to being the father and dies moments later. It turns out that an ‘A’ is carved into his skin, over his heart.
In Liddell’s version, the A stands for Angélica, for ‘artist’, for Artaud in a bold act of reclaiming – in much the same way that Hester, later on, refuses to remove the letter from her clothes, because she has begun to doubt the conventional views on good, evil and sin. As in much of her other work, Liddell uses the story to explore sensitive issues and expose the hypocrisy of society. Liddell’s take on The Scarlet Letter is a scathing indictment of the recent surge of neo-Puritanism. She considers this lethal to the wild, primeval power that she believes art should have. Where in the 17th century, religion and law were one and the same, in the 21st century, it is ideology that has come to replace religion as the unwritten law in a society that seeks to eradicate instinct, lust and passion and only allows reason to reign.
Angélica Liddell’s previous production at the Holland Festival, You are my destiny (Lo stupro di Lucrezia), was a similarly bold, provocative take. In her version of the classical story of the rape of Lucrezia, rather than a victim-perpetrator relationship there is unbridled passion between the rapist and the woman he sets his sights on. After her suicide, Lucrezia continues the relationship in hell in a conscious act of rebellion against the way virtue and political correctness are enforced on Earth, stifling the expression of desire. In The Scarlet Letter, Liddell raises the question of whether oriiginal sin in Paradise was actually a deliberate transgression, born of the desire to burn with passion. One of the first scenes shows Adam and Eve at Hawthorne’s tombstone. Their interaction is beautiful and pure, yet not without sexual tension. It’s the start of a series of visually-lush, astonishing, sometimes difficult scenes, completely devoid of taboo – a passionate testimony to Liddell’s love of man and his body. It’s an honest, uncompromising plea for the rehabilitation of sin, guilt and so-called ‘impurity’. Liddell is horrified by the notion that art should conform to a politically-correct ideology – for her, the stage is the one place of sanctuary where no topic should be off-limits.
Angélica Liddell (1966, Figueras) is a theatre-maker, writer and performer from Spain. After studying psychology and dramatic arts, in 1993 she founded her own company in Madrid: Atra Bilis, or ‘black
bile’. The body and religious symbolism feature prominently in Liddell’s works for the stage. Defying theatrical conventions, her work is as extreme and controversial as it is poetic. In 2010, she gained international acclaim with two productions: La casa de la fuerza, about the murders of women and children in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, and El año de Ricardo, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III that explores various manifestations of politics and the abuse of power. Atra Bilis became a recurring guest at the Avignon Festival, where Maldito sea el hombre que confía en el hombre was presented in 2011, Ping Pang Qiu and Todo el cielo sobre la tierra (El síndrome de Wendy) in 2013, and ¿Qué haré yo con esta espada? in 2016 – the second part of the Trilogía del infinito. Angélica Liddell made her debut at the Holland Festival in 2015 with You are my destiny (Lo stupro di Lucrezia). Over the years, her work has received numerous prestigious awards, such as the 2012 National Dramatic Literature Award for La casa de la fuerza in her home country, and the Silver Lion for Theatre at the Venice Biennale in 2013. In 2017, the French Ministry of Culture appointed her Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
- text, staging, scenography, costumes and acting
- Angélica Liddell
- freely inspired by the work of
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Joele Anastasi, Tiago Costa, Julian Isenia, Angélica Liddell, Borja López, Tiago Mansilha, Daniel Matos, Eduardo Molina, Nuno Nolasco, Antonio Pauletta, Antonio L. Pedraza, Sindo Puche
- Jean Huleu
- Antonio Navarro
- stage manager
- Nicolas Legrand Chevalier
- Sindo Puche
- production assistants
- Borja López, Saite Ye
- Génica Montalbano