Director Nicolas Lambert probes France's 'family secret', its colonial past

Actor and director Nicolas Lambert is drawn to the darker sides of France, from the oil business to arms sales. His one-man show France, Empire, appearing this month at the alternative theatre festival in Avignon, mixes personal and collective stories to uncover "a national family secret": France's colonial past.

Lambert is an actor, playwright, and first and foremost a storyteller.

In France, Empire, he serves as a history teacher, performing all the roles himself –from Charles de Gaulle to General Philippe Leclerc and most of the presidents of the last two French republics.

But alongside shared history and famous political speeches, he weaves in personal stories – including his own family history in the north of France.

The idea, he told RFI, was to demonstrate the place the colonial past continues to occupy in present lives.

"I wanted to have testimony on that part of France's history, and I wanted to give testimony that was not one of guilt," Lambert told RFI.

"Because, as our former president Nicolas Sarkozy said so well, 'children are not responsible for their father's policies, for their father's crimes'."

'A family secret'

Lambert says he got the idea for the piece after realising that his own daughter knew little about France's colonial history.

"By the end of the third grade, my daughter had never heard of the era of the old French empire," he said.

"She didn't know that Morocco was part of France, that Tunisia was part of it, or Cameroon, or so on. Or that all her friends came from places like these that used to be the French Empire.

Read more on RFI English

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