THE INTRUDER and THE BLIND
by Maurice Maeterlinck.
Old Red Lion Theatre 418 St John Street EC1V 4NJ To 28 April 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat, Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4307.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 April.
Rare opportunity to see unfashionable pieces by a once-prominent playwright.
Though he lived until 1949, Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck is considered a shadowy turn-of-the-century figure. His main work, from the 1890s, fits the shadowlands of suggestion and myth known as Symbolism. His best-know pieces are Pelléas et Mélisande, most famous as an opera by French impressionist composer Claude Debussy, and The Blue Bird. Several years later he was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize, in 1911, though he wrote little of note afterwards.
Symbolism is probably best summed-up by the play young Konstantin has created in the opening act of Anton Chekhov’s Seagull. There may be something to it, but the audience grows bored and the one actor can’t understand it.
Where there’s little sense there may be musicality, and The Blind itself was three times turned into an opera. But presenting these plays, both written in 1890, and seen the following year, in a tiny theatre, director Benji Sperring sensibly attempts to provide a sense of momentum, even if the scripts resist. In L’Intruse a family awaits a visitor to attend a sick relative. The figure finally comes, shadowy and black-garbed, rather like the dumb orator awaited throughout Ionesco’s The Chairs. The room is created from a straight wall of elegant books, a large window-aperture among them through which nature is perceived, with comments about sensuous birdsong.
A servant clears the family dinner-table, as much of books as plates; culture is the food here. Individual neuroses arise without much sense of individual personalities. It might be more true to play the script as a choric symphony of voices, but the attempts at realism let some light into the piece.
These are separate one-acters, but returning post-interval to Les Aveugles there could almost be the same characters after some disaster. But now there are no names, only types, lying in a paper wasteland (even a dog is formed of newspaper), contrasting the ordered volumes from before, the only guide they find a hanged monk. Performances are often rough in technique but forceful in spirit. This might not be hyper-Maeterlinck but it’s a rare chance to see work by a once-influential figure.
Grandfather: John Canmore.
Father: Darren Beaumont.
Uncle: Rupert Baldwin.
Gertrude: Helena Payne.
Ursula: Gina Aolins.
Genevieve: Saskia Roddick.
Servant: Michael Fellows.
Sister of Mercy: Judy Tcherniak.
The Realist: John Canmore.
The Melancholic: Darren B eaumont.
The Fantasist: Rupert Baldwin
The Pragmatic: Helena Payne.
The Romantic: Gina Abolins.
The Tormented: Saskia Roddick.
The Fearful: Michael Fellows.
The Stoic: Judy Tcherniak.
Director/Sound: Benji Sperring.
Designer: Jacob Hughes.
Lighting: Nic Farman.
Costume: Xylona Apperton, Zacaria Grzelak.
Make-up: Francesca Arthur.
Assistant director: Rachel Illingworth.