The brief yet astonishing creative career of the ‘enfant terrible’ of French poetry, Arthur Rimbaud, is explored by Penn Dixie Productions’ frankly eye-opening production The Seer. The title is I presume named for the poet’s self-description in a letter as a ‘voyant’, intimating a state more transcendent than that of mere artist. Rimbaud was undeniably an artistic prodigy, a precocity that attracted the attention of acclaimed yet discontentedly bourgeois poet Paul Verlaine. Verlaine left his wife Mathilde and newborn son before the pair of libertines embarked upon a torrid affair that scandalized 1870s Paris, an affair punctuated by absinthe binges and occasional murder attempts.
A modern-day Rimbaud scholar functions as storyteller to the truncated events, his thread of narration frequently interrupted by the interjections of Rimbaud himself, as well as the personification of Rimbaud’s younger self as a poet. The clear separation between Rimbaud the artist and Rimbaud the man, to the extent of being performed by two different actors, becomes of particular importance in the denouement, which details the poet’s abandonment of his literary career and ‘artistic suicide’ at the age of twenty.
Rather aptly for a story about the father of surrealist poetry, the play is very odd indeed. Sinister figures lurk in the shadows, wearing grotesquely shoulder-padded military jackets reminiscent of the terrifyingly square bodyguards featured in another classic oeuvre of French batsh*t crazy, Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Belleville Rendezvous’. The Rimbaud-obsessed narrator delivers Mathilde Verlaine’s baby while she lies prostrate reading a modern biography of her husband’s teenage lover. This baby, embodied by a doll, follows Verlaine occasionally smacking him with small plastic fists in a reminder of his abandonment. Verbal testimony at Verlaine’s trial in which he is accused of sodomy is given by a gigantic manifestation of Rimbaud’s anus, created by a table turned on one side. Then Verlaine’s baby emerges from the anus. Then the face of Verlaine’s wife, shrieking ‘My baby!’ On greater reflection, I’m not really sure the word ‘odd’ does justice to the many startling things in The Seer.
According to the Fringe guide, The Seer contains ‘Explicit language, a very large puppet asshole, much kissing of all kinds, and a bare ass.’ So if you are offended by any of these things, you should perhaps give The Seer a wide berth or risk suffering coronary thrombosis though indignation. While I’m still not (and probably never will be) precisely sure what I just saw, The Seer was hilarious and clever, featuring some truly spectacular absurdist performances. Though rather unsurprisingly the large puppet asshole totally stole the show.