by Jean Cocteau adapted by Helen Shutt.

White ear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 11 August 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 July.

Suave and dynamic view of sibling intimacies and rivalries.
It’s taken from 1929 for Jean Cocteau’s novel to find a stage home in English, so the tiny White Bear has quite a coup.

This production’s scale imposes some limits; when sister and brother Elizabeth and Paul take his school-friend Gerard into their home, his place, at the foot of a bed, is hardly one Elisabeth needs showing round. And the introduction of a fondness for poisons seems tacked-on late. But Harbinger Theatre’s production has a lot that’s very good.

The siblings are almost marooned in their room, continually developing their game of provocation. Father is dead, mother dying, while a fiancée is disposed of unseen, as soon as he’s provided money to prevent the outside world intruding.

If the play itself’s a harbinger of later hermetic relationships (as in Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney) it’s on a socially elevated level. These are confident young people, too old to be children, not experienced enough to be quite adults, but assuming adult manners.

Perhaps the White Bear, while intimate, is too open a space (two audience rows round two sides of the acting area) for the situation’s full claustrophobia to emerge. But Joel Cottrell’s production comes close to a triumph nonetheless.

Amber Dernulc creates a messy, bed-dominated area with any look to the outside world being through a narrow peephole, transforming to an elegant enclosure once Elisabeth has inherited money, though still with two, more widely separated, beds. And Mathew Breslin’s lighting atmospherically narrows or isolates parts of the stage with colours contrasting the all-white general coverage.

A spotlight helps the brisk opening, where a stone-centred snowball first makes Paul an invalid needing his sister’s care. Max Krupski and Josh Taylor have a bright manner, mixed with Gerard’s innocence by Krupski and Paul’s sulkiness by Taylor; his fascination is evidently directed towards his unseen attacker, later the poison provider.

Alma Fournier-Carballo’s Agatha has an apt subordination, laid low by love and under the spell of Alice Beaumont’s commanding Elisabeth, her vocal self-certainty accompanied by briskly affirmative moves, and moments when stillness leaves no doubt her mind is machinating vigorously.

Elisabeth: Alice Beaumont.
Agatha: Alma Fournier-Carballo.
Gerard: Max Krupski.
Paul: Josh Taylor.

Director: Joel Cottrell.
Designer: Amber Dernulc.
Lighting: Mathew Breslin.
Voice: Amy Curtis.
Costume: Alice Buckingham.

2012-08-01 15:29:09

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