La Musica

Marguerite Duras, Translation by Barbara Bray
Classics for a New Climate
Young Vic’s Maria Studio

Sam Troughton Credit: David Sandison
Sam Troughton as Michel and Emily Barclay as Anne-Marie Credit: David Sandison
Emily Barclay as Anne-Marie Credit: David Sandison

In association with Classics for a New Climate, the Young Vic has launched an experiment in what might be regarded as austerity theatre. Some might argue that protecting the planet is wholly commendable but need not necessarily extend to the lack of energy in the play chosen for the experiment.

On the plus side, director Jeff James has been granted a superb team by the Young Vic for an evening that has been designed with eco-friendliness as a primary objective.

This claustrophobic 70-minute drama has more of the feel of a piece that originated as a short story than a play or, to be more precise, two short stories.

It features a couple on the brink of divorce some three plus years after deciding that they could not live together. Oddly, it has echoes of Private Lives but is far from a comedy.

The evening’s stars are Sam Troughton, still fondly remembered for his magnificence in Bull in the same space, playing Michel opposite New Zealander, Emily Barclay as Anne-Marie.

The staging, in a stark setting designed by Ultz, is novel and can be effective, especially in the second run-through of events.

For the first half hour, the actors sit on a high platform facing away from their audience. In place of seeing them directly, their faces are projected on to separate cinema-sized screens in close-up, just like a movie.

This means that emotions cannot be hidden, as they recall the latter days of a marriage destined to fail, perhaps because they were too young but more probably because their personalities naturally tended towards promiscuity and escapism.

In true French style, the couple dissects the ups and downs of marriage in microscopic detail until little more remains to be said. Amongst other things, each has betrayed the other almost randomly, he had purchased the gun but then shied away from using it and she disappeared into a cinema and forest, when not chatting up barmen.

The bare space is then reconfigured, the paying public split into three groups who respectively sit tight, move their chairs into a square or stand uncomfortably behind their fellows.

Now, the acting duo move around weaving between camp followers and re-telling the tale of the marriage and break-up with few significant changes to the plot.

It may not make too much difference to those in attendance but the slight oddity of a story revisited for no obvious reason may possibly be because the script contains not only the brief La Musica but also its later extended version, La Musica Deuxième. Neither Google nor the reviews of the lacklustre Hampstead production in 1993 could immediately prove this theory either way and saving on paper there was no programme.

By the end, visitors should be filled with admiration for the performers, whom they have had the opportunity to observe both on screen and in the flesh.

What they will have made of the twice-told story might be more debatable, since little happens and somehow, the discussions of passion gone astray do little to illuminate the characters of the dual protagonists.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher