‘Just the Worst Time of the Year for a Revolution’ Breaks the Wall of the Binary
Collectif Erreurs Choisies Brings Crumbling & Disorienting Play to the Fringe
Visceral and luminous, Just the Worst Time of the Year for a Revolution nudges at the deepest crevices of the subconscious.
As discordant, buzzing music hummed over the speakers, crimson lights leaked from the stage. Two bodies bound together with plastic wrap were almost lost from sight next to a giant TV installation, while to the left a performer has their head tucked neatly inside of a microwave.
Just the Worst Time of the Year for a Revolution, produced by Collectif Erreurs Choisies members Hadrien Daigneault-Roy and Sascha Cowan, is the collective’s take on Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, itself inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Under 10 pages, the 1977 play has been subject to much criticism and analysis over the years. The play has a fluid narrative, carrying audiences through a series of monologues that reflect a multitude of different themes.
For Cowan, the play is a reflection of Müller’s life and own observations, living on the East side of the Berlin Wall at the time it was written.
“It’s all about being in between, being on both sides all the time, and having those big ideologies like communism and capitalism, on the verge of breakdown,” they said. “What do you do when everything falls apart and there’s just a breakthrough? A fissure.”
For the directors, producing Just the Worst Time of the Year for a Revolution was a way for the team to get closer to the text, and to explore the themes they feel are present in the play.
“For us, the gender binary is the same wall as the Berlin Wall,” explained Daigneault-Roy. “It’s like a wall between the two binaries, and it’s falling apart right now, and we see something new, but we don’t know what the fuck that is.”
“[Müller’s] text is really a material that queer people can use to free themselves,” they continued.
Exploring themes of liminality, gender, and binary through intense and emotive symbolism, Just the Worst Time of the Year for a Revolution throws its audience into a dream-like state, where a linear narrative is exchanged for an immersive experience in a world without binary.
“But you can also read it as just something that punches you in the face, and you don’t know why—and you want to read it again, and be hurt again and again.” — Sascha Cowan
The three performers unravelled from their contorted positions, wearing costumes that shook the psyche—a flowing dress stitched with masks with mouths agape, a nude bodysuit with a black corset. The play blended drag, dance, and video to create a raw sense of urgency, using symbolism to play at the ever-shifting nature of identity.
“[According to Müller], the people should read Hamletmachine as a material, an experience—because we experience things differently when we don’t know what they mean,” said Cowan.
Each scene unravelled with a vivid energy. One scene had dancer Fanny B. Poulin moving towards the audience in jagged spasms, while in another scene, performer Caroline Morcos peeled printed images of eyes and mouths from her face and ate them. Each scene felt like it drew upon another set of symbols, the well of inspiration never ending.
The giant TV lit to action when Cowan’s character began filming themselves applying makeup, the lipstick gathering around their mouth, mascara caked under their eyes.
“All the little words [in Hamletmachine] mean something and have a reference to other things,” said Cowan. They have read the play over 10 times, and kept coming back for more.
“But you can also read it as just something that punches you in the face, and you don’t know why—and you want to read it again, and be hurt again and again.”
The three performers often broke the fourth wall, peering into the audience with snarls and grins. Outfit changes were followed by complete personality changes that inspired me to think about the nature of identity—a theme discussed in the play’s program.
For the duo, the name of the play is an allusion to its themes.
“We’ve been asked, ‘What’s the worst time of year for a revolution?’ And we thought, maybe it’s the Pride month,” said Cowan.
“Because [Pride] used to be a riot against oppression [and] the system of binary. Now it’s just capitalist, and people are using the queer flag [for money] and to reinforce capitalism.”
The lack of formal narrative created a dimension of timelessness, where symbols tell the story. With contrasting lighting, visually striking costumes, movement that felt alien and an often jarring soundscape, the outcome is an experience that leaves one asking the bigger questions.
“Queer is Hamletmachine,” Daigneault-Roy said. “It’s to be in between, on both sides, to be everywhere, and not having to choose, and not wanting to choose, a binary, male or female, cis or trans, heterosexual or homosexual, clean or dirty. I wanna be clean and dirty!”
“It’s not only about being a man or a woman, or a human or an animal, or a human or a machine,” they added. “We can really be all of that, and embrace all of the diversity and multiplicity of identity.”
A previous version of this article stated that the name of the play was Just the Wrong Time of Year for a Revolution and Just the Worst Time of Year for a Revolution while it is, in fact, Just the Worst Time of the Year for a Revolution. The Link regrets these errors.
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