by Vercors in a version by Anthony Weigh.

Trafalgar Studios (Trafalgar 2) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 2 February 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.

TICKETS: 0844 871 7632.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 January.

Cerebral politics offer no seaside holiday.
In geographical fact, a Channel lies between England and France; in theatre and fiction something far wider. Though Jean Bruller, nom de plume Vercors, was writing a present-day political story about the Nazi Occupation of France, his abstracted action (if that’s not too active a sounding term – which it is) seems designed to remove thrill and suspense from the surface. Anthony Weigh’s stage version does nothing to supply it, either.

Germans were told to be on their best behaviour with the French – early in the war (1941-42), convinced of ultimate victory, they wanted to appear saviours of civilisation. The two French citizens in this sea-edge house aren’t fooled, though they seem traumatised, partly by their connection with the killing of another German, unlike Werner, who is billeted upon them.

Not that Leo Bill’s apologetic character needs telling to behave. A musician, and compulsive analyser of his own behaviour, he talks incessantly while a young woman and her uncle sit silently, she occasionally playing the piano despite an agreement not to express any cultural flowering while the invaders remain. Mild and keen to be friendly, he is met by the peasants’ heavy silence, and, after his romantic contrast between their sea and the thick forest of his home, is more horrified by discovering German violence than are they.

Only when Werner’s away does Finbar Lynch open-up to the audience, the actor using intonation, phrasing and economical gestures to give immediacy to a part written as past tense narration. Meanwhile, Simona Bitmaté, silent almost throughout, (a silence echoed in her mime, accompanied by distinct sound effects of instrument, windows, knocking on doors and the sea), appears fearful or alarmed, her secret expression of resentment described by her uncle.

As the final slice of the Donmar’s three-play Trafalgar season, developing young directors, Simon Evans has chosen a non-dramatic piece which unfolds at a leisurely pace, with a reflective complexity that challenges the linearity of performance. It challenges concentration too, despite being skilfully structured by Anthony Weigh and presented with clarity by the three fine performers in what seems a labour of genuine love.

Young Woman: Simona Bitmaté.
Older Man: Finbar Lynch.
Werner: Leo Bill.

Director: Simon Evans.
Designer: Ben Stones.
Lighting: David Plater.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Assistant director: Phil McCormack.

‘Donmar at the Trafalgar Studios’ has been supported by United House, Arielle Tepper Madover and Jon and NoraLee Sedmak.

2013-01-16 00:07:58

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