“I want to tell you everything but I wouldn’t want my children to know”

“I want to tell you everything but I wouldn’t want my children to know”
“I want to tell you everything but I wouldn’t want my children to know”

Last winter, we sat down in the canteen of the Sainte Gertrude residence, in the Marolles, in Brussels, to chat with Mohamed El Khatib. In the shade of the artificial tree, he told us the reasons why he had chosen to go through the doors of a home to make it the main subject of his show. Mohamed El Khatib (Beaugency – France, 1980) is a playwright, director and associated artist at the Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles, which co-produces The secret lives of old people – currently on stage in Brussels before going on tour in France.

We will reread the report in the walls of the Sainte Gertrude house, where an art center was born.

Most of the timehe confided to us, artists who work in retirement homes explore the end of life, the loss of memory or autonomy. They never work on the momentum of life that still exists. It is time that we come to see old age differently than through its stigmata”.

Mohamed El Khatib is not his first foray into the home. In 2020, he founded with Valérie Mréjen, an art center in an Ehpad (Accommodation Establishment for Dependent Elderly People), Blés d’Or, in Chambéry, France. The association with “elderly people” – as they say –, the old – as he writes without fuss in a language hampered by what brings us closer to death – had allowed him to hear the stories that are still being played out (!) in the bodies and hearts of our elders.

The suicide of Anne, deeply in love and separated from her lover Jean-Claude at the nursing home because it didn’t suit said Jean-Claude’s kids, had finally convinced Mohamed to finally ask the questions correctly. Is there an age when we no longer have desire? Is it because we are old that we are no longer in love?

”The desire remained intact”

From the first scene, things are rocking: at 91 years old, Jacqueline (June, former journalist at RTB) has “always want to make love”, “and I articulate well”, for all those who would pretend not to understand… The eight participants, real old people, not actors, enter the ball; take the microphone with vigor; push the walker to look the audience in the eyes: “I had my first orgasm at 65”.

Jacqueline Juin, former RTB journalist. ©Sybille Cornet

Mohamed El Khatib directs live and we are never sure what is rehearsed or spontaneous. It must be said that the show must be thought of flexibly when the cast is between 76 and 91 years old, even if apparently death is not a good excuse to leave the stage.

No to the infantilization of our elderly

To the tasty speeches, sparkling with new ideas – at random, Annie, who notes that there are no differences between her impulses and her desires at 20 and at 82 – adds the quality of a game, solid, that of these living witnesses not at all ready to die on stage, despite the defibrillators available in every corner.

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Let’s say there’s a scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to sexuality. One is really bad, and 10 is almost a spiritual thing… Most of us don’t have many 1s or 10s, but we settle on 5 to 6, if we have any. luck.

Everything converges (scenography, lights, video) to see only them: Annie, Micheline, Chille, Martine, Jean-Pierre, Jacqueline, Jean Paul, and Yasmine. To be sure, also, not to exploit them or worse, make them talk to make us laugh. Even if we laugh, because it’s caustic, liberating, apostrophizing. Their words are not a speech, even if their words become political when they ask us about what we should (offer) our elderly. But above all they are very them. And they are us, we are them. The National Hall stands up, it cannot do otherwise.

⇒“The secret life of old people,” at the Théâtre National, in Brussels, until May 31. Then on tour across France, from July 4 to 19, in Avignon, and closer to home, from January 14 to 16, 2025 in Arras. Info: https://www.theatrenational.be

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NEXT Valady. Jean Couet-Guichot and Gaya Wisniewski, two artists in residence within the region