by Jean Anouilh translated by Jeremy Sams.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 6 June 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 27 May, 4 June 2.45pm.
Audio-described 5 Jun, 6 Jun 2.45pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 May.
Beautiful theatre, fine set, exemplary performances in a perceptive production bring this play to life.
While Shakespeare and his fellows built a drama combining words and action, French dramatists concentrated on words to describe feelings and report deeds. In the 18th-century this suited Pierre Marivaux. Two hundred years he later might have sidled towards the Existentialists. Tucked-up safely in his own time he analysed the nature of love with the obsession of a monomaniac moth that had discovered an eternal candle. The thick foliage of his verbiage takes some penetrating; Hamlet’s “Words, words, words” only begins to cover it.
So when, in the mid 20th-century, a world of atom bombs, midway through France’s war in Vietnam, with rebellion rising to the boil in French-run Algeria, popular French playwright Jean Anouilh – who, in 1944, had adapted the story of Antigone with reference to the German Occupation – used Marivaux’ Double Inconstancy as the play being rehearsed by a French Count with an amateur cast to surprise and entertain guests who’d received an invitation to his château, the stage is set for the theatre of irrelevance, for supreme escapism reflecting audiences as elegantly dressed and socially poised as the Count, Countess and his lover Hortensia.
Thank the theatrical gods then for Jeremy Sams, with his witty translation and perceptive direction, allowing but never forcing humour, and giving space for a clutch of fine performances. Niamh Cusack and Katherine Kingsley shimmer in social assurance and smiling insincerity as they crowd-out innocent young Lucile who’s captured the Count’s heart as well as inflaming his, more frequently exercised, passion. Gabrielle Dempsey suggests the toughness of a survivor within this meek, young social inferior.
Jamie Glover brings terse intelligence to the much-admired Count, while Joseph Arkley reveals Villebosse, dressed in Harlequin costume for his Marivaux role, as a member of the social set ignored for lacking humour or irony. Increasingly striking as the action proceeds, Edward Bennett’s Hero, the anti-hero descendent of Jacobean stage malcontents, moves from drunken cynicism to intense misanthropy and self-loathing in the darkest scene, doing wrong out of a stew of perverse duty, drunken morbidity and revenge on the Count and all humanity for his own lost love.
The Countess: Niamh Cusack.
Damiens: Simon Dutton.
The Count: Jamie Glover.
Hortensia: Katherine Kingsley.
Hero: Edward Bennett.
Villebosse: Joseph Arkley.
Lucile: Gabrielle Dempsey.
Valet: Ben Lydon.
Director: Jeremy Sams.
Designer: William Dudley.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Assistant director: Rupert Hands.