Flight to Arras, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“a crucial gift to our generation” for Simon Piasecki
Saint-Exupery’s death remained a mystery for many years until his bracelet was recovered near the wreckage of his P-38 Lightning in the Mediteranean sea. His sacrifice in part is that he didn’t need to fight; his background & social standing as a writer meant that he might have simply deployed his pen in the defence of France, but he flatly rejected entitlement of either class or celebrity: he was a pilot first. Adapted for performance with the kind permission of the Estate of Antoine De Saint-Exupéry and publishers Gallimard, Paris, Flight to Arras, will be on the scene in Catholic University of Lille, Aula Maxima, the 17th of June at 6 pm. This performance is dedicated to the memory of Antoine De Saint-Exupery and the refugees and their children that struggle along the roads to safety.
Simon Piasecki, Professor of Theatre and Head of Department at Liverpool Hope University, explains : “I have referred myself to Saint-Exupery since being a rather bewildered flaxen-haired little boy that loved to draw. La Petit Prince was a natural friend from when the book was read to me at six years old, albeit that I could not understand its subtleties! As a young adult my identity was affected strongly by a wish to know a Polish grandfather who, after escaping as a refugee through Europe on foot, had died as pilot of a Bomber aircraft flying for the RAF in 1944 and I had always referred myself strongly to Saint-Exupery’s writing as a pilot in order to feel closer to this experience.
Flight to Arras
Saint-Exupery published Pilote de guerre, translated in English as Flight to Arras, in 1942, having returned to France to fly in its defence. The book describes the anguish of retreat in the face of invasion and defeat, the incomprehensibility of an end of culture and civility and a view of his own French citizens fleeing southward as refugees from their own burning towns and villages. Saint-Exupery describes his loss of God as he looks down upon the seeming ruin of his people and chaos that prevents any organised response – but still he flies. In a mission to gather intelligence over Arras he considers such crucial philosophical points and refinds his faith and belief in France, in Europe and in civilisation.
Since I began to adapt the book for theatre, having considered the nature of identity over sixteen years of research practice, the questions and indeed answers that Saint-Exupery offers have become once again a crucial gift to our generation. He is passionate, insightful and moves his reader to tears with his gentle wit and deep sense for humanity. He reminds us that we might all be a victim or refugee of war and how we respond to those that are will define the survival of civilisation and our very humanity. He says it is not the victim or the refugee that he would die for, but rather the person that pulls them from under the rubble, the person that helps them in their dire need.
In this paper I will describe the adaptation of the work for theatre and the great responsibility of trying to depict this complex and brilliant writer whose commentary, in my opinion, is so crucial to our situation in Europe today.”
‘In Times Like These’ – adapting Saint-Exupery’s Flight to Arras for theatre, 17th of June, 6 pm, Université catholique de Lille, 60 bd Vauban, Aula Maxima. Free entrance.