THE ONE-EYED PEOPLE by Mustafa Benfodil, directed by Kheireddine Lardjam. © Compagnie El Ajouad
Volume 1

Kheireddine Lardjam, Traveller Between Two Shores

Kheireddine Lardjam, Traveler Between Two Shores
by Marina Da Silva
This article first appeared in
Theater im arabischen Sprachraum/Theatre in the Arab World
Edited by Rolf C. Hemke, Theater der Zeit, 2013
It is reproduced with permission from the publishing house, Theater der Zeit, Berlin, Germany.
 Arab StagesVolume 1, Number 1 (Fall 2014)
 ©2014 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

One of the few great directors of his generation, Kheireddine Lardjam has come a very long way and made an improbable journey, successfully anchoring his work on both sides of the Mediterranean. Born in 1976 in Oran, he was little more than a child at the start of the “black decade” of the 1990s which killed tens of thousands of people, and only just eighteen when in 1994 Abdelkader Alloula, a true icon of Algerian theatre, was assassinated. The trauma put the town and the country in a state of shock. For Kheireddine, Alloula was a role-model, a charismatic figure. An actor, director, and writer, he wrote for the Algerian people in their dialect and in such a way that the story, told through the figure of the goual (the storyteller) and the theatrical device of the khalka (the circle), was at the heart of the drama.

Battling against the political and social situation in his country, Alloula took his fight everywhere: municipal theatres, village halls, public squares, Moorish baths, cafés, backs of shops, cellars . . . Kheireddine Lardjam took up where he left off, not copying but reinventing this theatre of stating and playing, in which the text has the power to change minds and to transform society. He also retained Alloula’s relationship with language, which shows in his poetry and his musicality, and in the total physical commitment of the actors.

Kheireddine started his company in 1998 after leaving the conservatoire, he had no institutional support and the theatrical landscape was ravaged: he called it El Ajouad (The Generous), which was also the name of a cult play he put on in 2000. This was followed by three others: El Veil in 2002, Statement in 2003, and Leeches in 2004. All of them interrogate the disillusion of independence, the reign of bureaucracy and the extreme poverty that people live in with a critical distance and sharp humor. The stage is always bare, apart from a few items of metaphoric scenery and elaborate lighting effects that intertwine first-hand accounts and epic story-telling. The young actors he directs have a background in amateur theatre, but he has been able to draw out their personal styles and individuality, and bring out a sense of movement and liveliness which strengthens the impact of the text.

It was because of Alloula that he visited France. He put on The Generous at the Forum de Blanc-Mesnil in Seine-Saint-Denis in 2001, and came back as an associated artist with Veil in 2003 as part of Algeria year in France.Veil even toured nationally in France, a first for a new Algerian company. The support of the Forum and other places like the Creusot national stage allowed him to put on a show every year and to use more professional actors. Even though he chose to remain resident in Algeria and to put on plays in the most precarious conditions, sometimes in the most remote and terrorism-exposed areas, he never stopped producing regularly in France, and even managed to introduce a repertoire of contemporary Algerian writers there. What demands attention is his fertile creativity and demanding direction that feeds off collaborations with other artists like Arnaud Meunier and Guy Alloucherie, who have a background in circus, and Nacera Belaza, with a background in dance.

Kheireddine started working more with movement, leading to a production in 2009 of Maïssa Bey’s Blue, White, Green in collaboration with the choreographer Frédéric Cellé. It was a marvelous combination of theatre, dance, song and music. Like many Algerians, Kheireddine Lardjam recognizes himself in that luminous novel, which unravels a previous generation’s experiences through the story of Ali and Lila, a couple who have loved each other since they were teenagers and whose relationship is turned upside down by the weight of social constraints. Making use of transparent veils, he successfully symbolized two worlds, the world of inside and the world of outside, of the masculine and the feminine, and paints a portrait of a generation that fought for its ideas and experienced both romantic and political disillusion. A period— between 1962 and 1991—that saw the arrival of the Islamists in politics and which leads him to ask: “What have we done with our independence?”

He then produced Rachid Boudjedra’s Rain two years later, another novel written first in Arabic then in French, in the form of an intimate and transgressive diary belonging to an insomniac woman. The role was subtly choreographed and shared between an Algerian actress, Malika Belbey, and a French actress, Cécile Coustillac, who together play an Algerian woman casting a sharp eye on her society and its taboos. A soundtrack and video images represent the mental space in which the actresses move and into which they draw us.

With The Poet as a Boxer, adapted by Samuel Gallet in the style of Kateb Yacine and performed first by Tarik Bouarrara and Amazigh Kateb, he brought music and poetry to the heart of the performance. Amazigh Kateb composed the original music for Mustafa Benfodil’s The One-Eyed People, or Crude Inner Colonialism which Kheireddine produced in January 2012; the piece intended to square up to the fiftieth anniversary of Algerian independence and disrupt memorial discourses which, for the two artists, mask the seizure of the revolution by FLN officials. It’s about a director who lives in Algeria and has to choose between his biological father and his adoptive father, with the events of the Algerian war in the background. Samir’s right eye sees completely differently to his left eye, and he has passed his schizophrenia onto his son. The play, which was written in 2006 but remained in a drawer because of its radical and provocative nature, is about independence and the relationship to father figures. It presents the point of view of a generation which today is challenging its heroes and myths and wants to lift the veil on the relationship between France and Algeria. It criticizes the ravages of 132 years of colonialism just as much as it does the betrayal of revolutionary ideas, and doesn’t hesitate to point out the murky parallel between the civil war and the war of liberation. It also tackles episodes which are rarely referred to, such as the Melouza massacre committed by the FLN in 1957.

On stage, the story is told breathlessly and without respite, in very forthright language, molded like liquid metal by remarkable actors who give all their energy and emotion, who step outside the frame of the scene by also acting outside the frame of the stage, moving through the rows of the theatre, using space to provoke giddiness. Sid Ahmed Agoumi and Azeddine Benamara in particular manage to create out-of-the-ordinary characters, never naturalistic, creating something out of the interplay between who they are and the characters they play. Linda Chaïb, breathtaking in the account she gives, in a trance, of the rape suffered by a young woman in the 1990s, allows the violence to pass through her body and attains an incandescent and disturbing presence. Kheireddine Lardjam thus creates a rhythmic and physical energy through which he asserts a point of view which is not only intellectual but emotional, all the while giving the audience, whose lucidity he wants to sharpen, space to think for themselves. It’s not a question of delivering messages but of wakening a critical consciousness. And that happens through the play of text, acting, light, sound, movement and rhythm.

The One-Eyed People is the first in a three-part series on the complex relationship between Algeria and France. The second part is planned for 2015 and has been assigned to Fabrice Melquiot. Lardjam explains: “At a time when the links between integration, even-handed distribution, reciprocal respect between countries and history remain unsolved, and the answers are incomplete or elusive, theatre has the means to help us understand.” The third part will be entrusted to Mohamed Rouabhi, whose life and work are marked by hybrid French-Algerian culture and its lines of friction.

Prior to these two planned plays, Kheireddine Lardjam is casting a light on the revolutions which have shaken the Arab world and where he sees “changes which show that East and West are irremediably autistic in regard to each other: an inward-looking and condescending West, refusing to believe that elsewhere the sacred can still be part of religion, and a neurotic and excessively touchy East, incapable of understanding that for its opposite number, God is dead—and buried.” This is a project which he intends to pursue through producing Yasmina Khadra’s work Babel, a synthesis of the stage adaptation of her two novels The Attack and The Sirens of Baghdad and a way for Kheireddine Lardjam to interrogate the world and its contemporary chaos on stage with aesthetic tools he has made for himself and which transform Algerian theatre.

Translation from French: Karen Tucker

Marina Da Silva is a journalist who writes regularly for Le Monde Diplomatique and L’Humanité, among others, and works with Almada International Theatre Festival (Lisbon). Through several stays in Algeria she has worked, in particular, with the writer and dramatist Abdelkader Alloula and with people involved in young Algerian Theare.


Arab Stages
Volume 1, Number 1 (Fall 2014)
©2014 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Founders: Marvin Carlson and Frank Hentschker

Editor-in-Chief: Marvin Carlson

Editorial and Advisory Board: Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dina Amin, Khalid Amine, Hazem Azmy, Dalia Basiouny, Katherine Donovan, Masud Hamdan, Sameh Hanna, Rolf C. Hemke, Katherine Hennessey, Areeg Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury, Dominika Laster, Margaret Litvin, Rebekah Maggor, Safi Mahfouz, Robert Myers, Michael Malek Naijar, George Potter, Juan Recondo, Nada Saab, Asaad Al-Saleh, Torange Yeghiazarian, Edward Ziter.

Managing Editor: Joy Arab

Table of Content

  • Brecht’s Theatre and Social Change in Egypt (1954-71) by Magdi Youssef
  • Re-orienting Orientalism: from Shafik Gabr’s “What Orientalist Painters Can Teach Us about the Art of East –West Dialogue” to Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced by Fawzia Afzal-Khan
  • ‘Now I will believe that there are unicorns’: The Improbable History of Shakespeare in Yemen by Katherine Hennessey
  • Radhouane El Meddeb’s Experiments With Gender: In Search of New Bodies by Omar Fertat
  • Coptic Christian Theatre in Egypt: Negotiations Between The Minority and The Majority by Mohammed Musad
  • A New Perspective on Mikhail Ruman’s Smoke in A President of His own Republic? by Anwaar Abdelkhalik Abdalla
  • Kheireddine Lardjam, Traveller Between Two Shores by Marina Da Silva
  • Where Theatre has failed Syrians by Rolf C. Hemke
  • The Arab Aristophanes by Marvin Carlson


  • Solitaire by Dalia Baisouny
  • The Imam and the Homosexual by Jamil Khoury


  • Struggling Against Insurmountable Odds: Theatre in the Arab World/Theater im Arabischen Sprachraum A Book Review by Michael Malek Najjar


  • Malumat: Resources for Research, Writing/Publishing, Teaching, & Performing Arts compiled by Kate C. Wilson

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

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