Posts Tagged ‘John Fowles’

I’m fond of a bit of Marivaux, though there’s been a bit of a famine of late. This early 18th century French playwright wasn’t as highly regarded as the more earnest Racine or the more grandly comedic Moliere in his day, but contemporary British audiences have rather taken to his perfectly formed minimalist romantic comedies, and there were some 37 of them over 50 years (I’ve only seen four!). This one was last seen (I think) at the NT 24 years ago, titled The Game of Love & Chance, a translation by Neil Bartlett, who was partly responsible for rekindling interest in Marivaux. This is a translation by the late John Fowles, set in Jane Austen’s Regency England, workshopped by the NT nine years before that, but not staged until now.

It’s a simple but intricate plot. The father’s of Sylvia and Richard have arranged for them to meet in the hope they will become a match, but it’s not an arranged marriage. With her father’s agreement, Sylvia decides to swap roles with her maid Louisa so that she can observe Richard’s character, but unbeknown to her, Richard has decided to do the same with his manservant Brass. Sylvia’s father knows of Richard’s plan as his dad wrote and informed him, and her brother Martin is now in the know too. It unfolds like a dance of love over ninety minutes until we have not one, but two, happy couples. It’s got bags of charm and there isn’t a wasted moment.

Paul Miller’s in the round production has great pace, with no props to slow down scene changes. Simon Daw’s simple but elegant design comprises a lamp and flower ceiling feature, an illuminated floor and sky painted canvases on each side. All six performances are excellent, with Ashley Zhangazha & Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Richard and Sylvia and Claire Lams & Keir Charles as Louisa and Brass. It never outstays its welcome and you leave the theatre with a warm glow.

Lovely to see Marivaux again. Lets hope it starts another reawakening of interest.

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Though I saw this 1922 Jean-Jacques Bernard play (in the same John Fowles adaptation) at the NT in 1985, I can’t remember a thing about it, so I came to this first revival at the Finborough as if it were the first time. The small space, with audience on three sides, and a quintet of fine performances made it a most intimate and intense experience.

Martine and Julien meet by accident as the latter is walking by. They begin a doomed one-sided relationship, though we never know whether Julien breaks Martine’s heart because he wasn’t really in love or whether class and social conventions get in the way. Martine has to keep the secret with her broken heart, as Julien goes off with his fiancé Jeanne.

It’s a delicate and beautiful story but it doesn’t really sustain it’s 105 minute (unbroken) length and the sadness is completely overwhelming. I left the theatre even more exhausted than when I entered it, a weight of unbearable melancholy bearing down upon me that I struggled to shake off. Though this is in some ways a tribute to the quality of the production, it didn’t make for much enjoyment!

Tom Littler’s delicate production is faultless and Hannah Murray and Barnaby Sax are superb as Martine and Julien. There’s also excellent support from Susan Penhaligon, Chris Porter and Leila Crerar. I’m not sure the play is a match for their talents, though it may be that I didn’t have the coping skills to make it as rewarding an experience as others appear to have found it.

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