La Musica

Maria Studio, Young Vic Theatre, London (****)

© David Sandison

© David Sandison


In her lifetime, the French writer, Marguerite Duras was a literary titan, famous for her novels, plays (the RSC produced at least two of her works, Days in the Trees with Peggy Ashcroft, 1966 and Suzanna Andler,1973) and screenplays (Alain Renais’ luminous 1959 film, Hiroshima Mon Amour).

Subsequently out of fashion (a mark of our increasing insularity), this is a welcome revival and re-acquaintance with a gallic spirit and a writer who specialised in relationships. La Musica is nothing if not highly personal.

Indeed director Jeff James has heightened the intimacy with a first half that concentrates our attention on Sam Troughton and Emily Barclay’s estranged French couple solely via video-cam. Planted way up in the Young Vic’s Maria studio, we see only their backs, their faces magnified on screens, every reaction and white of the eye multiplied a hundred fold.

Like a `selfie’ gone mad, is this Jeff James signalling a reflection of our times or a symbol of the narcissism inherent in the pair’s relationship? For in the second part, audiences are asked to move their chairs and the performance becomes not so much `a promenade’ (as described in the theatre’s blurb) as another of their intense voyeuristic ringside productions like Bull, Mike Bartlett’s play in which Troughton also starred in this very studio earlier in the year?

Duras shares with Pinter an obsessive scrutiny of love. Troughton’s Michel reveals a dangerous sense of possession, stalking his wife portrayed by actress, Emily Barclay with the cool air of untouchability so reminiscent of Pinter’s first wife and `muse’, Vivien Merchant.

© David Sandison

© David Sandison

Round and round they go, as if picking away at an old spot, a pair who can’t live with each other and can’t live without. Repetitive yes, but for this viewer, a reminder of a European avant garde style very much of its time and beautifully conjured by Jeff James with Troughton and Barclay.

One caveat. The production is laudably promoted by the Young Vic as part of a sustainable way of doing theatre. No programme or tickets are printed. But whilst biog details on director and cast were available online, there was almost nothing about the writer herself, Duras. Naughty!

La Musica is at the Young Vic to Oct 27, 2015

First published in Reviewsgate Oct 2015