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Avignon shows scars of Algerian Independence War

Unknown Algerian grandfather Younès (Amine Adjina) and traumatised French colonial grandmother Irène (Madalina Constantin)behind a screen of unconsciousness in Alexandra Badea's play Points de Non-Retour Quais de Seine at the Avignon Festival in July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Avignon Festival

Franco-Rumanian Alexandra Badea attempts to tackles the Algerian Independence War in the second part of her trilogy 'Points de Non-Retour' which premièred at the 73rd Avignon Festival. In English this means 'Points of No-Return'. She explores how political history seeps into personal histories and  shapes peoples' lives.

Love made impossible by enmity and politics are at the heart of this soberly written play. Alexandra Badea cures a suicidal young woman with historical healing, filling a generational gap.

The stage is divaded into two distinctly defined spaces. One is a hospital room in the present, the other, behind a screen, is a sparsely furnished studio apartment in Paris. She places a couple in each.

A young woman, Nora, who has tried to commit suicide (Sophie Verbeeck), and a doctor (Kader Lassina Touré) are in front of the stage.

A troubled radio documentary maker and a psychyatrist swap places to unknot the past in Alexandra Badea's play at the Avignon Festival, July 2019 Christophe Raynaud de Lage

In a typed letter to an anonymous person, Franco-Rumanian Badea opens the play by explaining that she is looking into the darker corners of French history. She started her research after acquiring French citizenship in 2013.

By chance the writer has met a person who has sparked her curisoity about the Algerian War of Independence.

The rest is history.

Two generations later

Nora has made a radio documentary on the mass killing of pro-independence Algerians living in Paris in 1961. The doctor figures out that she has tried to commit suicide because she doesn't know who her grandfather was, and therefore who she is.

She feels she has little to go on,  but the mystery needs to be unravelled. The link is the grandmother who is passionate, conflicted and determined played by Madalina Constantin.

Conveniently, we all have dreams and a subconscious. Nora's lead her to an Algerian colonial love story between two people born in the North African country.

Sophie Verbeeck as Nora has to look back to find why she can't go ahead in Alexandra Badea's, Points de Non-Retour Quais de Seine, Avignon Festival,5th July, 2019 Velica Pandruru

The man is the son of locals, the woman, the daughter of French-born colonials, a so-called Pied-Noir which literally means Black-Foot as they are known in France.

Going somewhere

Badea's play has potential as these historical events are vessels of terrible drama, which vehicle inherited drama in ordinary lives. The writer-director manages to expose private, intimate and sometimes inhumane experiences with sobriety.

Gradually, Quais de Seine informs and reveals, dishes up a red-herring, and finally produces a twist.

The sticking point, but perhaps not one of no-return, is Nora's virtual monologue. Without it the play would be an historical piece, however the doctor's role is reduced to that of a virtually inexistant button-pusher lacking in vital dramatic art.

The history of the Algerian War of Independence and the memories associated with it on both sides of the Mediterranean is quite under-exploited in French performing art. One of the big Avignon hits two years ago, 'Saigon' written and directed by Caroline Guiela Nguyen, visited the effects of France's colonial history in Vietnam on today's generations though the romance between a French solider and a Vietnamese girl.