Is the show about laughing or crying in the face of social dramas?
“It is a show that brings both, the objective is to instigate people’s reflexion on current social and political realities”, explains Isabelle Jonniaux. “J’accuse gives the floor to five women: a saleswoman assistant, a manager of SME, a migrant worker, a receptionist, and a writer. To a larger extent, these stories tell our stories as we are on the verge of dismantling
prejudices, racism, social injustices, or the inertia of our leaders.”
The purposeful diversity of the characters is meant to highlight the value of roles in society that we may consider less valuable or unimportant. “These are women that we don’t necessarily hear, they are not heroes in our societies. Everyone has something valuable to express”, argues Isabelle Jonniaux. To a larger extent, this is a way to reflect the dissatisfactions of those who are not heard, to whom we give little consideration, with no thought that they can have a collective impact.
The comedian interprets the second character, the business woman who manages a small enterprise, who is also aggressive with her straight and polemical comments. The main accusation that can be directed at Isabelle Jonniaux is that her character is nationalist, disapproving social and economic policies. “It happens often that I’m booed during the play or even in private after the show”, notes Ms. Jonniaux.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the migrant worker in Belgium describes experiences that could be the experiences of many others: while doing her best to integrate into Belgian culture, her efforts are limited by the constant questions and prejudices directed at her country of origin or resistance to her in the job market despite her outstanding qualifications.
The tragicomedy has the authority to criticise the routines we do not pay attention to. “Through the eyes of these women and through their laughter, we are passing messages to arouse the consciousness”, comments Isabelle Jonniaux. While criticism is the leitmotif, the show does not provide any solutions to the issues exposed. It is intended to raise questions, about Lara Fabian’s obsession about listening or the playwright herself, the Canadian Annick Lefebvre, as to the purpose of J’accuse. Isabelle Jonniaux mentions that some of the feedback she has received has accused the play of being an inappropriate form of feminism that should not have a place in theatre, however she contests this with a simple answer, “Everyone has something valuable to say and can push the boundaries imposed.” The red line of J’accuse would be a certain degree of political incorrectness, but one can say you need to get your hands dirty so you can wake up sleepy minds and advocate on behalf of social justice.
Background note: J’accuse premiered in Canada, in 2015, and was later adapted to the Belgian national context. The show is currently running at various theatres in Brussels, Rideau de Bruxelles@Atelier 210, Théâtre de l’Ancre, Centre Culturel Jacques Franck, and will continue until the end of January 2018.
Isabelle Jonniaux’s personal background is, in itself, a bit of a thunderclap as after a course of study in economics, she re-directed her professional path to theatre. She has been artistic director at Atelier210 since 2005.