Friday, 25 April 2014

Theatre review: Martine

You'd expect a play called Martine to be a biography of Ms McCutcheon, but I'm afraid we'll have to wait a little while longer for an onstage reenactment of that time she vomited in Mick Hucknall's hair. Instead Jean-Jacques Bernard’s play takes place in rural France in 1920, as Julien (Barnaby Sax) returns from the war to stay with his only living relative, his grandmother (Susan Penhaligon) in a small village. On the way he meets and falls for local simpleton Martine (Hannah Murray.) This is her moment, this is her perfect moment with him, and a fortnight of flirtation follows, but the arrival of Jeanne (Leila Crerar,) to whom he had once been promised, makes him long for the company of someone better-educated. Soon Julien and Jeanne are married, and Martine is left to either watch from next door and pine, or accept Alfred's (Chris Porter) unwanted proposal.

Martine has something of a smaller-scale Chekhov about it, and Tom Littler's production had the potential to be an intimate, lyrical and quietly moving piece.

Unfortunately Murray is no stage actress, and putting her at the centre of a play like this is deadly. Martine's tragedy is that she's too uneducated to provide a match for the man she loves, but here she becomes so flat and listless that she's downright exhausting to watch. On the rare occasions when Sax and Crerar are alone together on stage they manage to spark some chemistry, but soon Murray's back like a cyberman without the emotional range, deleting all the energy in the room.

Which means I really have no idea what to make of either Bernard's play or Littler's production. I suspect both are probably quite good, if not great, but the miscasting at the centre of it all makes the experience as interminable as the lifetime of dullness stretching out ahead of Martine.

Martine by Jean-Jacques Bernard in a version by John Fowles is booking until the 17th of May at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes straight through.

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