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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Poulenc’

Jean Cocteau’s artistic range was extraordinary. Writer (poetry, novels, plays, ballets and opera), film-maker (director, cinematographer, screenwriter) and artist (graphics, stained glass, buildings). His plays – and there were almost twenty of them – are rarely revived here; I can only remember one other being produced in London during my decades here, so this is a rare event.

You wouldn’t expect this monodrama to find a home in the West End, but the combination of actor Ruth Wilson and director Ivo van Hove is guaranteed to put bums on seats. They are both favourites of mine, so that was a guarantee to put mine on one of the seats. I’d only ever seen it’s operatic adaptation by Poulenc, so it was my first exposure to the play.

A woman is in her apartment waiting for a call, frustrated by the party line (remember those?). We hear her even when she is out of view, perhaps collecting something. Eventually she is connected with her lover, only to learn that he is to marry someone else. She seems to take this lightly, making arrangements for the collection of his things, but underneath her heart is clearly breaking. The call is disconnected and reconnected a number of times, which adds to the emotional roller-coaster ride that she’s on.

It takes a great actor to sound matter-of-fact to her invisible caller yet look emotionally broken to us voyeurs in the audience. It’s a tour de force which Cocteau wrote in response to his actress’ friends’ desire for a meaty role, and it still feels like a very exposed, visceral, challenging piece. In this production, she is in a rectangular box with glass on one long side, no decor or props, lighting changes influencing the mood of the piece and the glass proving to be a window which slides open, suggesting the balcony of an apartment block. The final image takes your breath away.

I’ve seen all but one of Wilson’s London stage performances, but that’s only seven, so it was a pleasure to be reminded of her talent with such a virtuoso performance.

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