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  • Writer's pictureDavid Furlong

French in London INTERVIEW : "Now I have projects, not dreams”

Founder of the Exchange company, David Furlong is also an actor, director and translator. Many talents that have allowed him to find a place in the world of English theatre. (Alexis Gourret, 06.Jul.2021)

The theatre community is the one most affected by the pandemic. All companies have been forced to stop performing for a while and then adapt in order to survive. Exchange Theatre troupe is no exception. David Furlong, the creator of the company gave us an interview to review his career.

David Furlong is from Mauritius. Being from a former English colony, he spoke English as well as French all his life. A faculty that will become its greatest strength in the future. But before that, it was through France that he came to acting and studying theatre. “When I was 19, I played all year in a municipal classical company. But it wasn’t very artistically interesting, not very deep and researched what I was doing. So I tried the auditions of national theatre schools in France. I had the one from Chaillot in Paris. But at that time I was very classic in my approach, a lot of Molière and Racine “. An approach that will evolve as he learns. “I was discovering a culture that is more global than French, more contemporary, more radical. Suddenly it was more art. ” Despite a recognized training in the industry, David struggles to find work. “I realized that it will be more complicated for me because I am Mauritian. I realize that, at the time, it was more difficult for a man of color, even a pale one, to be an actor in France “. So in 2003 he decided to go to London, more open at the time to diversity, to move there in 2005. He landed his first work in a play by Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian symbolist, “it made a bit of noise. But that’s also when we say to ourselves with Fanny Dulin, the co-founder of Exchange, "we can do it too”.

Exchange, from English to French

They start from a very simple observation, in England, non-European texts are hardly known. “They don’t know Pasolini here. They are unfamiliar with classics like Molière, whom they confuse with Italian comedy. When in fact, one is inspired by the other. England has a very strong culture. They have Shakespeare who is one of the greatest. So when you have such an author, why look elsewhere. I understand the bias that can create. And then England is an island, there they just voted on Brexit, there are things that are not totally surprising in this cultural identity that is a little withdrawn in itself.“ But it was precisely by taking advantage of this empty space that the Exchange was created, with the aim of translating French plays little known across the Channel and playing them. The first play translated and edited was Paul Claudel’s Exchange. This gave the company its name. “What is interesting about my career and the work of Exchange theatre is that we find ourselves gradually producing, then retouching a translation then doing one, then working on one with actors in a room, in short, we gradually added strings to our bow ”.

After their 4th show, Exchange was invited by the French Institute of the United Kingdom to work in residence for young bilingual children. “So we started to create shows for young audiences and we did 12 over 2 years. We wrote and produced all the time. It was a very, very good time. And at that time we also understood new things about bilingualism and working bilingually ”. So it was naturally at the end of these two years that they decided to create a show performed in both languages. “In 2013 we had all the original English audience, but we still have all this French-speaking following. So we decided we’re going to do our next show in both languages. One play, two distributions, one in French and one in English and we alternated the evenings ”. A process which worked well, but which did not entirely satisfy David. The two shows were not the same since the French and English actors were different. A problem that the creator of Exchange will quickly solve.

The Covid hits hard

“In 2016 we made a Doctor in spite of himself on commission from the French high school (Lycée Francais). A single cast of completely bilingual people and we put on the same show one evening in English and the next day in French. It worked very well, but on top of that it brought us a lot of recognition, including a nomination for best staging at the Off West End awards. But in 2016, it is also the year of the Brexit vote and so at the same time we have the impression that the English were saying to us "welcome, do your job ”and at the same time the vote told us“ in fact we don’t want you ”. Despite everything, the play is a hit and in large part thanks to the actors, who, being perfectly bilingual, can play with words and their modulation in one language and the other. ”What’s great is that when you want to put a more Latin intention in the French way, we can apply it, we bilingual actors, to English. And in the other direction too: if we want to put nuanced phrasing, the lightness of the English language in French, to better convey an intention, we can do that too. I don’t have a preference between playing in French and in English, which is great is to nurture each other “.

In 2019-2020, the company and more particularly David Furlong, began to make a name for itself, a real place in the community, he worked at the Young Vic Theatre, various contracts were going to be signed, but unfortunately the covid arrived. “When everything stopped in March of last year, it was quite violent because we were on an upward slope in the company, we were more and more co-producer with other companies on bigger and bigger ones. shows. So these interruptions have been brutal, even in our personal careers. When it all stops it hurts”. Past the frustration, the team had to find a way to continue to exist. And it was their decisions in the past that helped them survive. “Since 2007 we have opened theater classes for adults to support creation and also to create a community of theater enthusiasts. With the covid we continued our lessons on Zoom and our students followed us. We also started to broadcast some previous co-productions on the web. So our 2020 season has kind of taken place.“ The state also allowed them to survive. ”We had an Arts Council grant in June 2020, Emergency funding, which allowed us to continue paying the rent for our rehearsal space. It saved us, because if we had lost this place, we wouldn’t be talking to each other there, it would all be over.“

IN Exchange was born

But to resist the ruthless theatre environment, you have to be visible and for that, Exchange has also found the solution. “A documentary team followed us on a creation two years ago. This documentary had never been released, He was there and ready, but we didn’t know what to do with it, but all the same we said to ourselves that this might be an opportunity to show our work since can’t exist on a set, at least people can find out on screen and say to themselves “that’s great, it has to come back”. So it’s called IN Exchange with all the symbolism that this title brings. It came out on June 15 and is a very beautiful document on the collective experience, on our vision of theater. Available on our site ”.

Besides this documentary another project is underway to continue to live as a company. “We have a show called Noor that already has commitment promises for the year 2021-22. We are thinking about our next creation and the Exchange also means that the collaborations with other companies and that will be really beneficial. We have a network of people who may be in the same difficulties as us, but if we do things together we will get there ”.

The Covid plus Brexit has taken its toll, but David Furlong refuses to give up and dream of coins. ”You don’t have to say it’s a dream anymore if you’re in it. Now I have plans, no more dreams “. A sort of mantra passed on to him by Jean Reno when they met while filming. So if you want to support his projects, don’t hesitate to go take a look at his site and watch the documentary on the creation of the misanthrope ”it’s another dream / project that I realized.“, Affirms David Furlong, actor, translator and director.

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