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Posts Tagged ‘Cecile Tremolieres’

The early 1950’s saw a revolution in theatre, well in Paris at least, with the arrival of Beckett and Ionesco (one Irish and one Romanian), challenging the realism that the art form was locked in. This play, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot, were first produced there in 1952. It reached the UK five years later where it ignited a debate amongst theatre folk, triggered by critic Kenneth Tynan and involving the playwright and theatrical luminaries like Orson Wells. Around the same time our own angry young men heralded a new age of realism with their kitchen sink dramas, led by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

This was an important part of the post-war history of theatre. Surprising then that this appears to be only the second major London revival. I saw the first, a 1997 co-production between the Royal Court and Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with the late Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan. This proved to be the most unlikely transfer to Broadway, garnering five Tony nominations. Twenty four years on….

The ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’ live on an island. They are preparing to welcome an (invisible) audience to hear the old man’s big speech, though it will be given by the speaker. We learn that London is no more, so we are in some sort of dystopian future. They assemble chairs for the visitors and when they arrive welcome them, making introductions between them. It’s all building up to the big moment, the speech.

Omar Elerian’s translation / adaptation / direction takes a lot of liberties, either with the permission of Ionesco’s estate (Beckett’s would never let him get away with it) or maybe the protected period has lapsed. There’s a backstage audio prologue, the speaker turns up regularly for bits of business and interaction and the speech is replaced by an elongated epilogue, which was the only variation I felt pushed it too far. Otherwise, an obtuse period piece was brought alive for a new audience.

It’s hard to imagine better interpreters than husband and wife team Marcello Magni & Kathryn Hunter whose extraordinary physical theatre and mime skills, as well as the chemistry between them, are used to great effect. Toby Sedgwick provides excellent support in the expanded role of the speaker. Even Cecile Tremolieres & Naomi Kuyok-Cohen’s clever design gets to perform.

It was great to see the play again after a quarter century of theatre-going. The production may travel a long way from Ionesco’s intentions, but it seemed to me to provide a fresh interpretation for an audience seventy years later. London’s longest running play is The Mousetrap, 70 years now. Paris’ longest runner is Ionesco’s earlier absurdist play The Bald Primadonna, 65 years. That somehow defines the differing theatre cultures of the two cities.

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It’s very hard to write about this extraordinary, captivating piece by Rita Kalnejais. It defies both categorisation and description, but I’ll try…..

Set near Chartres, France towards the end of the Second World War, it tells the story of the love at first sight between young German soldier Otto and local girl Elodie. Otto believes everything he’s been told about ‘Mr. Hitler’ and the objectives and progress of the war. He’s expecting to begin an invasion of England at dawn, when in reality the allies are in the process of liberating France. This contrasts with his naivety and charming innocence wooing Elodie. She too is naive and innocent and, well, charming, but they both get a dose of reality, when Otto finds he’s missed the retreat rather than the invasion and Elodie realises there will be consequences to befriending a Nazi. An intimate love story against a backdrop of war.

Whilst the story is being played out on a turfed stage representing their secret isolated spot, there are two adults in karaoke boxes with microphones and headphones who sing songs and occasionally read lines from a video screen, before they join the youngsters at the conclusion. Perhaps they represent those who were once lovers like Otto and Elodie? Their presence is incongruous but fascinating. Their songs are current pop tunes, as contemporary as the language and behaviour of the teenagers. The quirkiness, the surprise, the ambiguity is all part of this charming cocktail.

Cecile Tremolieres’ design looks beautiful and Jay Miller’s staging is delicate. Bradley Hall and Hannah Millward are delightful as the young couple. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage for its 70 minutes running time. Take a chance on it if you can get a ticket in this extra, final week.

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