The Little Black Book

Jean-Claude Carrière, translated by Solvène Tiffou
Riverside Studios
(2003)

Jean-Jacques has just ushered the 134th conquest of his life through the front door of his studio apartment when the world turns upside down. In strolls Suzanne, a pretty blonde looking for a mysterious M. Ferrand.

The vague suspicion that this might be a Gallic version of Pinter's The Lover soon dissipates. This couple are not a husband and wife looking for new passion but two unhappy people for whom lying is the norm.

After the opening, almost every action taken by one or other of them makes no sense. She refuses to leave his flat so he lets this complete stranger stay. She lazes and reads the eponymous book which details his love-life, blow by blow.

Soon, for no reason, there is a sea-change and Jean-Jacques cannot live without, nay worships the sometimes seductive but often irritating Suzanne, who inevitably begins to play it cool. At one point, after several days of co-habitation, he announces that he is indeed Ferrand, the man that supposedly made her pregnant and whom he had denied being on her arrival. This seemingly makes no sense.

The portrayal of this strange couple is skin deep and their lives remain unexplored. There has been no attempt to flesh the pair out and despite the uncomfortable efforts of Paul McGann and Susannah Harker they are unreal. As soon as any logical pattern starts to develop, M. Carrière ensures that it is broken.

The Coup de Théàtre Company has been set up with the laudable aim of translating French plays for production in Britain. While their first production may not be a great success, it is to be hoped that they continue their project as far too little contemporary French work makes it through the Tunnel.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher