The writing, life and person of Simone de Beauvoir reimagined and expanded in a nuanced exploration of the vicissitudes of love.
Performer and co creator Jillian Murray in De Stroyed. Photograph by Jodie Hutchinson.
When Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal work, The Second Sex, was released in 1949, it caused something of a stir. It reportedly sold 22,000 copies in its first week of release. It came only four years after women had gained the vote in France and some ten years before the second-wave feminism it played a significant ideological role in fomenting. De Beauvoir rose to prominence at a time when the role and status of women in society was undergoing seismic change. There are parallels today that go far beyond #MeToo, to challenging accepted forms of subjugation and privilege. It’s a moment that asks more than just a biography of de Beauvoir remastered for the current moment. De Stroyed draws on her writing, her philosophy and her life to craft a nuanced and compelling exploration of the vicissitudes of love.
Jillian Murray enlivens a Simone de Beauvoir in many forms. There is the historical in de Beauvoir own words, in her 51-year relationship with Jean-Paul Satre. There is the partial fiction of other lovers, for de Beauvoir and Satre both had many, though none by exact names and circumstances. And there is the total fiction of a son and his chosen wife, who de Beauvoir the mother detests. These different strands of love are woven together with the ever-present themes of age and aesthetics into a de Beauvoir that explores all three.
The potent honesty of the writing in De Stroyed aligns it deftly with that of its partially eponymous subject and yet it extends her in directions she never fully countenanced. De Beauvoir famously chose to forsake motherhood to focus totally on her work, so it would be interesting to know what she would have thought about her maternal incarnation. The addition of a daughter-in-law who values the material, institutional conformity and ambition for status is a devilishly clever device to explore the ideological distance that can open up between generations, particularly when it is the older generation who remain the radicals.
Those unfamiliar with de Beauvoir’s life and work may find the frequent changes in context challenging to follow but when moving between numerous balances of fact and fiction, there is certainly something to be said for avoiding bright-line transitions. There is also a quality of fragmentation so common to aging memory and significant change, albeit in very different ways. In the former, blank spots expand over the traumatic and the boring, leaving a quixotic mix of nostalgia and injury. In the latter, the accuracy of the perceptions themselves are attacked along with the forces that shape shared reality. In De Stroyed these two strands of fragmentation are presented artfully though without the full destructive capability that they have demonstrated when combined in the external world. And yet it is this lack of horror, this circumspect analysis of what brutality is contained in the status quo that was key to the power of de Beauvoir’s and her contemporaries’ ideas.
At a time when feminism is grouped in with the so-called identity politics that current conservative voices decry for their perceived attacks on free speech, it is worth remember that de Beauvoir has the auspicious honour of being the last author added to The Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, List of Prohibited Books. Ten years after de Beauvoir’s books were added it was discontinued by Pope Paul VI. One hopes that ten years after De Stroyed, a reinvigorated cannon will continue to overcome the real attempts at censorship.
4 stars ★★★★
Jillian Murray – Performer & Co Creator
Suzanne Chaundy – Director & Co Creator
Zoe Scoglio – Video Artist
Christopher de Groot – Composer
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level