“You come in like a lion and you leave like a lamb”. This was just one of the marks left on the walls which met the eyes of Jean-Marc Mahy as he passed, under guard, along the corridors of his prison, in which he was to spend three years of his sentence in solitary confinement. However, it might also adequately describe the transformation of anyone who thinks that they know or understand the experience of being incarcerated in such conditions, before hearing Mahy’s autobiographical testimony that is
Mahy’s story seems purpose-written for the stage or screen;its authenticity makes it all the more remarkable
Lifting the lid on ‘the prison inside the prison’, this is an hour and a quarter that can never adequately do justice to the torturous time endured by Mahy, but it does provide a period of concentrated intensity which draws you further and further into this tale of confusion, despair and ultimately self-actualisation and hope. In this production, which is delivered in a mixture of English (actor Stephane Pirard playing a young Jean-Marc) and French (with the Belgian Mahy himself laying bare his account) with the aid of video and surtitles, the theatrical elements are presented simply, giving precedence to the words.
Similarly, the few hundred words of this review cannot hope to convey the range of anecdotes and emotions presented by the pair in the piece. What is perhaps particularly interesting in this English-language adaptation of the original is the reaction of Mahy, seated towards the back of the stage, as he too is presented with his own life played out in front of him by Pirard. It comes as no surprise that the events described still affect him in such an evidently caustic way. That said, his own sections of the piece are delivered bravely and with resolution. It is only on occasion that the speed of Pirard’s own lines is such that they become a little difficult to follow.
Mahy’s story seems purpose-written for the stage or screen; its authenticity makes it all the more remarkable. It is hard to imagine a way in which one might access similar content if not for this play, and this is perhaps reason enough for making it worth seeing. More than that though, the real-life aspect of self-redemption makes the piece a cautionary tale for young people at risk of starting down a similar path to that of the young Jean-Marc. With such shocking reality presented unadorned, A Man Standing comes recommended as an eminently eye-opening production.