Venue: Scenic Stage Theatre
The first half was devoted to Marivaux’s earlier play, La Dispute. The Prince and Hermiane are a fanciful, aristocratic couple fixed on proving who committed the first infidelity – Mankind or Womankind? They set their two servants to work, to manage the unfurling drama and then watch, as we do, events unfold as the six separate ‘wild childs’ are released from their solitude and set about falling in and out of love.
As an 18th century text, the fact it was written in a different language could threaten to come across as stale and confusing for a modern audience. Nevertheless, the dialogue is dynamic and fluid as the actors play delightfully with Marivaux’s use of quick, witty banter – testament to their understanding of the text and the efforts of the translation team.
The staging is simple yet effective, a wooden fortress backdrops the central stage with a singular well in the middle of it where most of the play’s actions take place. It has a touch of the fairy-tale about it, and although not extravagant, it has a great transportive quality. Kudos to the costuming department as well, with the costumes of Carise and Mesrou, the two servants who are sent to manage and transmit the show to The Prince, being of particular note. Dressed in dark turtlenecks and waistcoats completed with a wireless headset around their ears, they bear an uncanny resemblance to Ed Harris’ producer character in The Truman Show. It’s an interesting angle, emphasising the voyeuristic elements in the tale, a sub-thread behind the more prevalent ‘battle of the sexes’ concept.
The cast is strong, with solid performances all round. Leigh Douglas is commanding throughout, and as the wild children encounter more and more of their kind, she maintains her superior presence over the other actors, which is well suited to her vain and petulant character. The department is rather unfortunate in not having an abundance of third-year men. This means that both plays tonight see a great deal of gender swapping. It takes getting used to, especially when playing so hard on the male/female dynamic, but it is a testament to the women having to partake in this gender swapping that these unsettling feelings pass my mind. Particular mention should go to Lauren Moakes, who pushes her body and face into the haughty angles of a masculine figure while also maintain a light and collected comedic touch, never letting her reactions descend into over-exaggeration.
La Dispute has a great mood to it – soft and relaxing – despite battling with the threatening, dark themes of infidelity, voyeurism and entrapment. A huge failure on its release back in 1744, its themes relate well to a modern audience hooked on the romantic, yet rudimentary escapades of reality TV show characters and we slowly but surely become intoxicated by its world of romance.
The second act features a completely different play by Marivaux: Les Acteurs. Making use of the mise-en-scene device, on the day of Angelique and Erastes wedding, Merlin improvises a play that comes to encompass all the characters and includes much feuding between the bickering couples present. Comedy ensues as the characters become unsure of where the line between reality and the play stops.
The staging is simple with just an opaque screen with some triangular woodwork holding it up. It’s therefore not immediately recognisable where we are meant to be, but I suppose it gives the performing space great versatility.
The two sisters Madame Argante and Madame Amelin, played by Holly Morgan and Megan Conway respectively, absolutely dominate the play. Morgan’s performance especially is a tour-de-force with her larger than life movements and crystalline, aristocratic voice. Her arching eyebrows are also extremely impressive. Nicole Rushworth hits the femme fatale part on the head, but is given a thankless task with a role that lacks any depth. Symone Thompson, in the central role as Merlin, brings a vital combination of humour and intensity but perhaps lacks the cheeky playfulness and nuance required to tie the whole play together. A mention must also go to Joe Winstone, who’s amusing cockney cameo, as the Notary near the end of the play was a breath of fresh air in a play that felt increasingly dull and uninspiring.
The costuming of the show was odd, with no discernable theme to tie all of the costumes together. Araminte is dressed like a flower power hippie in a garish dress, Lisette wears a 60’s monochrome dress and for some incongruous reason The Notary is wearing a high-vis jacket (emphasizing the stereotype that all those in the practice of legal affairs are safety-concerned cockneys?). It may seem strange to pick at flaws in the costuming, but it reflects the wider concerns I have with the play. The energy in the play is sporadic, hurtling through important plot points while remaining achingly slow and uncomfortable at times. The performance simply lacks any cohesiveness, the cast seem stilted around each other with little in the way of chemistry and it all has the effect of baffling, and then tiring the audience. We can’t keep up with what’s going on and by the end we just don’t care anymore.