Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Theatre review: La Musica

At the start of their marriage Michel (Sam Troughton) and Anne-Marie (Emily Barclay) spent three months living in a hotel room, while they waited for their home to be built. They return to the hotel, or at least to its otherwise empty bar, on the last night of their marriage: Having both been unfaithful they ended up getting divorced, a protracted process that's gone on for three years. They've met again after all that time on the eve of signing the decree absolute as well as, ostensibly, to discuss what to do with a few last pieces of furniture and boxes of books. In reality what they want to do is pick at old wounds, as Marguerite Duras' La Musica is essentially a post-mortem on a failed relationship.

With all the moody introspection on display, you don't need the names or references to Paris to tell you where the story takes place: The characters couldn't be more French if they were chain-smoking Gitanes and wearing berets made of onions.

The play itself is a hard one to warm to, with its unlikeable characters going round in circles dissecting their years together, which seemed to go sour the minute they stepped into their own house. It's certainly hard to care about them, and not even easy to know how seriously to take anything they say: Michel repeatedly mentions that he bought a gun with the intention of murdering his wife, but ended up throwing it away; a bored Anne-Marie suggests he should have gone through with it. (According to Duras, in France a husband will usually get acquitted if he kills his wife in cold blood as long as she's been cheating. This will be signaled by the judge shrugging and delivering a verdict of "...bof.") But with their marriage basically brought down by ennui, it seems unlikely he'd ever manage to care enough to want her dead.

So perhaps this is why director Jeff James has come up with not one but two high concepts for staging his production, which has a minimalist, environmentally-friendly design by Ultz largely cannibalised from past Young Vic shows: The first scene takes place on a raised balcony, the actors facing away from the audience but with cameras projecting unforgiving close-ups of their faces onto the walls. Technically a promenade production, the halfway point sees the audience asked to move their chairs or stand to create an in-the-round staging, Barclay and Troughton weaving in and out of the audience.

This means each scene gives us a different way of being simultaneously intimate with and distant from the characters, and to see the well-contrasted casting of Troughton's sweaty, edgy Michel and Barclay's icy Australian Anne-Marie. It's an interesting twist on immersive theatre, and director and cast do strong work, but it's all for a piece whose cold introspection left me feeling "...bof."

La Musica by Marguerite Duras in a translation by Barbara Bray is booking until the 17th of October at the Young Vic's Maria.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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