An engaging journey of self-expression and historical reflection | Sunday Observer
The Museum Theatre:

An engaging journey of self-expression and historical reflection

23 July, 2023

As the sun set over Jaffna, the renowned Museum Theatre opened its doors, captivating audiences as part of the prestigious French Spring Festival recently.

After captivating viewers across continents in Germany, France, India, Taiwan, Canada, Sweden, Korea, Cambodia, Romania, Bosnia, and Kandy, this extraordinary production made its mark on the vibrant city of Jaffna.

Inspired by Heiner Muller’s thought-provoking play, “Hamlet-Machine,” the Museum Theatre invited visitors to embark on an immersive experience that blurred the lines between theatre and visual arts. Conceived by the visionary French director Clyde Chabot, this participative installation provided an opportunity for guests to delve into the realms of politics and poetry, while engaging in a creative process of self-portraiture and micro-fiction.

The project was collaboratively developed by a talented team, including postgraduate students from the University of Jaffna, directed by Dr. K Rathitharan, and students from the University of Peradeniya, led by Priyantha Fonseka and Chamila Priyanka.

Museum Theatre

Against the backdrop of an evolving gallery of individual self-portraits, participants revelled in the chance to express their generosity and sensitivity, collectively bringing forth the essence of a city, a region, and a country.

Each visitor carefully selected a historical photo from the 20th century to the present, accompanied by poignant words extracted from Muller’s “Hamlet Machine” translated into languages including Sinhala, Tamil, English, French, and German.

These chosen photos served as projections behind the subjects, who posed alone or alongside others, embodying the essence of the selected words. A skilled photographer then captured these powerful self-portraits, each reflecting a unique personal narrative.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer the director of the Museum Theatre, Clyde Chabot shared her connection to the play and the influences behind its selection.

She said, “I worked on this theatre play for more than 20 years. It’s a kind of love story with this theatre play.”

Clyde vividly recalled her initial encounter with the play, stating, “I saw it performed in France as a really crazy visual musical performance a long time ago.”

She further elaborated on the text’s poetic and enigmatic nature, explaining, “I find all this text very poetic, very strange, speaking in a kind of very dense, enigmatic way... It’s a kind of strange way of very synthetic that... speaks of every person, every country.”

She highlighted the play’s ability to encompass various historical elements, stating, “It’s first the Hamlet story, a kind of very famous legend in Europe, written by Shakespeare, but also the history of the 20th century... the dream of communism and the collapse of utopia, and also the entrance into a commercial and media world.”

Collaboration with Jaffna University

Scenic creation became a collaborative effort involving postgraduate students from the University of Jaffna, as well as students and lecturers from the University of Peradeniya. Together with Clyde Chabot, they wove together a mesmerizing tapestry of theatre, music, and dance performances, skillfully extracting poignant excerpts from Muller’s “Hamlet-Machine.” This enigmatic play, dense with poetic undertones, intertwined the history of Europe in the 20th century with the evolution of theatre and the personal life of Muller himself.

Delving into the play’s structure and themes, Clyde mentioned the multitude of characters and the post-theatrical aspect where the actor declares their departure from the stage.

She explained, “We have many characters in the play... it’s a kind of invitation for performance.” Additionally, she noted the personal connection of playwright Heiner Muller to the story, drawing parallels between his own life and that of Ophelia, including her tragic suicide. Clyde emphasized the endless possibilities for interpretation within the play’s writing style, stating, “The way he’s writing the text is very inspiring and gives a kind of possibility to question this text infinitely, with no end, endlessly.”

Clyde’s long-standing dedication to the Hamlet Machine drama, combined with her appreciation for its poetic and multifaceted nature, demonstrates her passion for bringing this unique theatrical experience to audiences. With its rich historical allusions and thought-provoking themes, the production captivated and engaged viewers in a captivating exploration of human existence.


For over two decades, La Communaute Inavouable has been at the forefront of a multifaceted research journey exploring “Hamlet-Machine” through various artistic languages. The project, which began in France in 2001 and spanned different stages in subsequent years, has evolved into a timeless tool for understanding the collective human experience across political and cultural contexts.

After extensive research within France from 2000 to 2004, the project expanded its horizons in 2009, exploring diverse continents and engaging audiences worldwide.

Chabot, the visionary behind this artistic endeavour, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the stage. A graduate of the Paris Political Studies Institute and Paris 3 University, she holds a Ph.D. in “Extremely Contemporary Theatre in Our Society.” Her journey as Francois-Michel Pesenti’s stage assistant and her participation in stage direction classes under esteemed directors such as Matthias Langhoff, Piotr Fomenko, and Anatoli Vassiliev, have shaped her artistic perspective.


Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the director of Goethe Institut, Stefan Winkler spoke about the uniqueness of the ‘Hamlet Machine’ and the Museum Theatre production and the reasons behind its selection. Reflecting on last year’s project in Kandy, he shared, “It’s a very complex project that I fully understood only when I came to Kandy and participated in the whole project. I could also observe how the audience is interacting with the installation and the performance. For me, it was a very moving event.” he expressed his motivation to continue the project after hearing a participant’s feedback, stating, “There was a lady last year who said, ‘The first time in my life, I’m coming to a cultural project like that where my voice is also counted or acknowledged.’ That gave me the motivation to say, okay, we should continue with this project and we should do it in another place.”

Regarding the selection of Jaffna as the next location, the Stefan highlighted the importance of language and partnerships, stating, “We already had the translation commissioned into Sinhala and Tamil. So we thought, ‘As we have the languages. Let’s go to a Tamil speaking area. And we selected Jaffna not only because we have our partner Kalam, but also because of the uniqueness of the area and the cultural diversity,” he further explained the process of finding funding and additional sponsors and partners for the project.

The project, inspired by “Hamlet Machine” and driven by its unique qualities, aims to engage the audience and foster a deeper understanding of the text’s themes within the local context. With a focus on collaboration and meaningful participation, this production promises to be a thought-provoking and culturally enriching experience for all involved.

Stefan also emphasized the significance of the text “Hamlet Machine” by Heiner Müller and the expertise of French director Clyde Chabot and her theater group in working with the material. He highlighted Müller’s role as an intellectual figure in East Germany, stating, “Heiner Müller was a towering figure in the intellectual scene in East Germany, and of course, he faced a lot of difficulties because it was a very strict totalitarian system.” He commended Clyde’s approach, stating, “She is always taking into consideration the local context... It is really months and months of work before the team coming here to discuss with the local producers, directors, performers to discuss this performance.”

Stefan described Müller’s texts as open to interpretation and emphasized the importance of individual engagement with the material, saying, “Heiner Müller’s texts are always talking about material... people are watching it and they get their own reading of the text... it’s more giving questions instead of answers or solutions.” expressed his desire for collaboration and the empowerment of local artists, he further stated that, “We really like to collaborate in a form that the local artists are benefiting from it.”

It is evident that the choice to collaborate with Kalam was rooted in the impressive cultural richness of the area and the remarkable work done by Nicholas, the Cultural manager at the Kalam. The decision to hold the performance in the outdoor area was made after careful consideration and discussions with Clyde and her team, with a focus on creating an intimate experience for a limited audience size.


When asked about the selection process for the Museum Theatre project and the collaboration with Kalam, Stefan explained, “Actually, it was one of my predecessors at the Goethe Institute in Colombo who came several times to Jaffna, and at one point, we decided to support kalam-cultural place in Jaffna. Because it is a marvelous place, you have everything here, and Nicholas is a fantastic cultural manager here he built up his own audience. So, they do their own autonomous programs here, and the Goethe Institute is supporting them, and also when we are proposing projects coming from Colombo or other places from Germany because we always like to collaborate with Kalam.”

Regarding the selection of the venue, he further elaborated, “So that was part of this long preparation process, several months, that of course we have sent photos of the whole venue to Clyde and her team and everything was discussed. And it was decided that this outdoor area would be the best to do the performance. Yet this outdoor mini theatre can accommodate 130-150 people at a time.”

As the sun set beneath the comforting shade of the colossal Neem tree in the authentic open theatre of Kalam, Jaffna, The Museum Theatre embarked on an extraordinary theatrical journey, etching an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of its captivated audiences. Through the powerful tools of self-expression, historical reflection, and artistic exploration, this immersive production seamlessly intertwines personal narratives, historical imagery, and poignant themes, resulting in an unforgettable and captivating experience.

Museum Theatre was presented with the support of the GIZ, SCOPE, the Department of Fine Arts, Faculty of Arts and Department of Agriculture Extension, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Goethe Institut, French Embassy in Sri Lanka and Maldives, region IIe de France and Deparment de I’Essonne.