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Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians

Since its publication in 1980, J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians has been widely acknowledged as one of the greatest books of the past century. Last August Russian director Alexandre Marine presented the first stage adaptation of the novel in Cape Town, and this winter he’s bringing his play and its original South African cast to the Segal Centre.
The Montreal-based director says that he wanted to adapt Coetzee’s famous book as soon as he read it over 10 years ago.
“I consider it as one of the best novels of the second part of the 20th century,” said Marine in an interview at the local Côte-des-Neiges theatre. “I’m extremely happy that it’s been produced already and that it’s going to be produced here in Canada. I hope that audiences really appreciate what we’ve done with this sort of literature.”
Much like Coetzee’s novel, the story is set in an unnamed empire and told from the perspective of a magistrate, who goes through a crisis of conscience. As the story unfolds he bears witness to the violence perpetrated in the name of the empire, while forming a relationship with a young barbarian girl, resulting in a journey to the dark side of humanity that questions just who the barbarians really are.
When asked what aspect of the book first attracted him, the director immediately pointed to the moment when the main character meets the barbarian girl and begins to rethink his entire life.
“Because of this one meeting, questions arise in him and he starts to question everything around him starting from sexual issues to the huge global political issues of our modern life.”
Although it was published over thirty years ago, Marine is still astonished how Coetzee’s novel is very much ahead of its time by addressing the contemporary global and political problems of the modern world. He hopes Montreal audiences will connect “humanly” and “intellectually” to the play and its poignant subject matter.

The Montreal-based director says that he wanted to adapt Coetzee’s famous book as soon as he read it over 10 years ago.

“It’s important for audiences to see some kind of important, valuable production about where we are and who we are and what is happening to us. This kind of production addresses such issues,” Marine explained.
Due to the book’s subject matter, which contains both violence and sexual thoughts, the stage adaptation of Waiting for the Barbarians is intended for a more mature audience. Rest assured that these topics have been treated artistically for the stage.
Interestingly, the play was originally set to get its first adaptation in Moscow, but the timing wasn’t right. Marine reckons it’s due to the Russian presidential elections and any mention of the word “empire” would not have been seen favourably. “It was too political I guess. There are still plans for doing it in Moscow, maybe next season.”
Waiting for the Barbarians runs from Jan. 27 to Feb. 17 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine Rd.

Sarah Geledi
Photo : Sarah Geledi

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