NTGent, Gent, Belgium, 2006
Author: Michel Houellebecq
Directed by Johan Simons

about the production

The novels by French writer Michel Houellebecq are not well known in Slovakia so far. In Western Europe though, this controversial writer – enfant terrible of French literary scene – ranks among literary stars, and his works are very often a basis for dramatic adaptations. Houellebecq´s works are very attractive, and they catch a broad spectre of readers: on the one hand, those who want to read “only” a well-written story full of emotions and fates, on the other hand, those who expect literature to be a more complicated partner for discussions, who prefer the parts of reflections over the state of our era, and meditations citing, paraphrasing, polemizing or ironizing the thoughts of the greatest thinkers from history and present days.

In his novels the picture of our era is full of lonely people who are mere unimportant particles in the colossus of liberal economy and dictatorship of market. People exist only to produce and consume, with only few “chosen” to profit from it. This seemingly cynical attitude towards the present-day western civilization is repelling for most people, and this is why Houellebecq has his supporters as well as enemies.

Houellebecq´s novel The Elementary Particles was staged by Johan Simons, one of the most recognized European directors, in co-production with the Schauspielhaus in Zürich and the Kemmerspiele in Munich. The second Simon ´s theatre meeting with Houellebecq was an adaptation of the novel Platform in 2001. In it Houellebecq focuses on how travel industry, and its other, hidden, but much more important side – sextourism, function in the market economy. This is the basis, which enables him to create a witty socio-critical view on the present-day colonization of the so-called “third world”. The clash of civilizations and total deterioration of values is the result of adoring the western rationality. Houellebecq criticises also the sexual revolution and the hippie generation. He thinks that the manifesting of liberal values of individualised society helped to ruin such a value like a family.

On the stage Simons successfully created an evocative story of the main characters of the novel, Michel and Valérie, who, in the middle of the world of total estrangement and individualism, decide for their own utopia: they want to create a place where people could enjoy endless pleasures, but not based on exploitation of others. Unfortunately, living in the time of the ends of utopias, this dream is smashed by the bomb attack committed by some Muslim individuals in a seaside resort in South Asia before it can be fulfilled.

Michel and Valérie try to escape the conditions of western society, but they do not see how deeply they are determined by them themselves. It is a dead-end escape from the feelings of fear of death, old age, unhappiness, which are, according to Houellebecq, the logical consequences of individualism.

In his productions Simons uses a contrast between “now and here” and the history of the story. He is very inventive also with actors: the concentrated performances of the actors are determined by a concrete situation and exact understanding of attitudes and thinking of the characters. It is an inwardly concentrated acting, which does not perform but rather comments.

While Camus´s and Beckett´s heroes were outcasts, exiles or simply literary metaphoric figures, Houellebecq´s characters are authentic average people depicted with documentary accuracy. They are one of millions, one of us. And this makes his accusation of our civilization even acuter.
Martina Vannayová


directed by Johan Simons
translation: Martin de Haan
adaptation: Tom Blokdijk
dramaturgy: Koen Haagdorens
set designer: Bert Neumann
costume designer: Nina von Mechow
cast: Wine Dierickx, Els Dottermans, Maartje Remmers, Steven Van Watermeulen, Oscar Van Rompay, Ward Weemhoff


Johan Simons (1946)
Studied dance at the Rotterdam Dance Academy and acting at the Theatre Academy in Maastricht. In 1979 he founded own theatre company Het Wespetheater and in 1982 Het Regiotheater. From 1985 when the Theatergroep Hollandia was established, he has been focusing on directing.  From 2005 he has worked as artistic director of the National Theatre in Gent.

After concentrating on Greek classical tragedy in the early 1990s (Prometheus, The Persians, The Bacchants) he turned his interest to man as a social being: he depicts portrayals of people who are able not only to fight against their own anxiety but also to express an interest in human solidarity and the world – political themes are very often (Voices, The Fall of Gods, Cement, GEN).

In 2000 Johan Simons and composer and percussionist Paul Koek were awarded the European Prize for New Theatre Ideas. Since then Simons has been invited to direct on distinguished European stages (Schauspielhaus Zürich, Schauspielhaus Stuttgart, Münchner Kemmerspiele, l´Ópera Bastille Paris) and his productions have enjoyed international success (participation at the Theatertreffen 2005 – Berlin; Vienna 2004 – the prestigious Nestroy Award for The Elementary Particles staged at the Schauspielhaus Zürich).


Materials available

Script of the production: SK, EN

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