by Jean-Jacques Bernard translated by John Fowles.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 May.
Revival as golden as its protagonist’s hair.
Long before Harold Pinter brought his famous silences into play, Jean-Jacques Bernard had been building characters around what they did not say. Most famously in Martine, his 1922 story of a quiet, unassertive country-girl. First seen resting on one of her regular errands for neighbours, she meets a local soldier, Julien, returning from the war.
Their mutual attraction continues some months until his fiancée Jeanne arrives, unconsciously attracting Julien away from the devoted Martine.
The play’s tragic without tragedy’s traditional elements. Grief kills nobody. There’s no conscious malice. Socially, the gap between Julien and Martine means his fiancée and mother cannot perceive her emotions. Alfred can; he wants to marry Martine and realises that’s how thing have to be.
Her near-silent life is bounded by carrying goods in her basket and, finally, peeling potatoes. Tom Littler’s production fits Bernard’s style and the Finborough’s intimacy. On a larger stage looks would acquire an air of deliberate performance. On screen they would seem predetermined by the camera. Here, performers own and inhabit their characters completely.
Chris Porter’s watchful Alfred is clearly planning Martine should marry him, but sees his determination as helping her; Susan Penhaligon’s smiling manner and considerate voice give life to Julien’s kindly mother, while Leila Crerar’s Jeanne is happily oblivious to Martine’s misery as she organises others. And Barnaby Sax gives Julien a glib optimism, only momentarily overlaid with sadness for the girl he’s destroying.
But Hannah Murray’s Martine is the heartfelt centre. From the opening, where shyness is replaced by love, every moment of her emotional change is registered in details of expression, the direction she looks, the angle of the face, the eyes’ expression. A complex of details form a perfect pattern, as do her later disappointments – at one point she instinctively waves to Julien, to be blocked by Jeanne doing he same. Only in Martine’s mind is he thinking of her.
Even her hair tells its tale – praised for its free-flowing gold at the start, it becomes tightly bound and constricted. That gets noticed; the human feeling it signifies does not. A rare, and fine, revival.
Martine: Hannah Murray.
Julien: Barnaby Sax.
Alfred: Chris Porter.
Madam Mervan: Susan Penhaligon.
Jeanne: Leila Crerar.
Director: Tom Littler.
Designer: Cherry Truluck.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound/Composer: Max Pappenheim.
Costume: Emily Stuart.
Dialect coach: Nick Trumble.
Assistant director: Philippa Douglas.