Posts Tagged ‘Jean Cocteau’

Jean Cocteau’s artistic range was extraordinary. Writer (poetry, novels, plays, ballets and opera), film-maker (director, cinematographer, screenwriter) and artist (graphics, stained glass, buildings). His plays – and there were almost twenty of them – are rarely revived here; I can only remember one other being produced in London during my decades here, so this is a rare event.

You wouldn’t expect this monodrama to find a home in the West End, but the combination of actor Ruth Wilson and director Ivo van Hove is guaranteed to put bums on seats. They are both favourites of mine, so that was a guarantee to put mine on one of the seats. I’d only ever seen it’s operatic adaptation by Poulenc, so it was my first exposure to the play.

A woman is in her apartment waiting for a call, frustrated by the party line (remember those?). We hear her even when she is out of view, perhaps collecting something. Eventually she is connected with her lover, only to learn that he is to marry someone else. She seems to take this lightly, making arrangements for the collection of his things, but underneath her heart is clearly breaking. The call is disconnected and reconnected a number of times, which adds to the emotional roller-coaster ride that she’s on.

It takes a great actor to sound matter-of-fact to her invisible caller yet look emotionally broken to us voyeurs in the audience. It’s a tour de force which Cocteau wrote in response to his actress’ friends’ desire for a meaty role, and it still feels like a very exposed, visceral, challenging piece. In this production, she is in a rectangular box with glass on one long side, no decor or props, lighting changes influencing the mood of the piece and the glass proving to be a window which slides open, suggesting the balcony of an apartment block. The final image takes your breath away.

I’ve seen all but one of Wilson’s London stage performances, but that’s only seven, so it was a pleasure to be reminded of her talent with such a virtuoso performance.

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This was one of the first Robert Lepage shows I ever saw, 24 years ago at the Cottesloe Theatre, but the combination of my poor memory and a significant re-working means this is like approaching a new show. Like all of Lepage’s work, it’s a flight of imagination, this time linking together Jean Cocteau, Miles Davies and Lepage himself.

French Canadian Robert is in Paris to record both the English and French narration for a documentary. He stays in his usual room in the Hotel La Louisiane, once occupied by famous names like Jean Paul Satre and Juliette Greco. In 1949, Miles Davis is in Paris where he meets Picasso and Satre and falls in love with Juliette Greco. He’s in the same hotel room, until he returns to New York City without Juliette and turns to heroin. In the same year, Jean Cocteau is returning to Paris after a visit to New York City, writing his Letter to the Americans. He’s addicted to opiates too. Miles Davies returns to Paris twelve years later to record an improvised soundtrack for a Louis Malle film. Cocteau, Davies and Robert are connected by having lost a lover.

We move between times and locations – hotel rooms, recording studios, night clubs and mid-air – in a half-cube that moves. Characters enter from anywhere, often whilst the space is moving. Projections create door and window frames. Beds, chairs and tables emerge. It takes a while to get into it’s gentle rhythm, but once you do it’s like entering a dream. All of the speech is in monologues, some to offstage characters on the phone or by intercom. It’s rather captivating, as you make the connections and piece it together for yourself. Classic Lepage, though maybe not CLASSIC Lepage.

Marc Labreche has the lions share of the action, playing Robert (an uncanny likeness) and Cocteau. Wellesley Robertson III is Miles Davies, a mute character. There is a brief appearance by someone as Juliette Greco in a bath!

Lepage always stimulates my imagination and makes me smile with his visual theatrical magic and this was no exception.

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