Tuesday, 17 March 2009

'madame de sade'

Comtesse de Saint-Fond ~~~~~~~ Frances Barber
Baronesse de Simaine ~~~~~~~~~ Deborah Findlay
Charlotte ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jenny Galloway
Madame de Montreuil ~~~~~~~~~ Judi Dench
Anne ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Fiona Button
Renee, Madame de Sade ~~~~~~~ Rosamund Pike

Director ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Michale Grandage
Designer ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer ~~~~~~~~~~~ Neil Austin
Composer & Sound Designer ~~~~ Adam Cork
Video Art & Projection Designer ~ Lorna Heavy
Act I
1772 The salon in Madame de Montreuil's house. Autumn.
Act 2
1778 The same. September.
Act 3
1790 The same. April, nine months sonce the outbreak of the French Revolution.

A difficult play - intellectual in its preponderance of words, ideas, argument - and wonderful for this, and for bringing us something non-naturalistic and this good in the west end. Annoying that a lot of the critics seem incapable of reviewing the actual piece rather than trotting out their different lists of what theatre should be as if a) their tastes are that authoritative and b) that theatre should be just one thing. (e.g. Susannah Clapp’s requirement for ‘fast pace’, and ‘women to be like women’ whatever that might mean.)

So this is an expressionist piece much closer to Brechtian theatre than the usual naturalistic fare. Played against an opulent gold-walled salon that shines and reflects wealth and purposelessness
Lighting, colours (browns to greens to icy metallic blues) and projections are used expressionistically. Played out between six articulate certain women who all arrive in impossibly ornate and heavy architectural concoctions to position themselves to present their views of the matter and who all easily breach the confines of their character types.

The women arrive and place themselves and are mostly still - Frances Barber's character getting the only real action from her whip play. All are strong and full in their characters, and listening to them reason and debate their different certainties from such fine actors who all bring such total presence makes the show compelling. And the substance of the piece is made stark and unremitting by the absolute absence of editorial comment - there are no easy indulgences of knowing who or what is right or wrong here: hear the arguments and make up your own mind. Listening to what is said in the onslaught of words is as problematic as the Marquis de Sade himself - overly ornamental sex & violations or philosophical testings on the nature of devotion? The inevitable decay of an aristocracy redolent with its own pointlessness or a new libertarian emancipation? Salacious gossip-mongering or high-minded argument?

This is a show of dense & relentless words counterbalanced by performances of crystal clarity and vibrating stillness masquerading as a richly made flummery of period opulence.

Mishima apparently wanted to make something that showed 'fire through ice', and to a greater extent this is what we get: the burning passions and pulsations of craving control are in every case perfectly glazed in icy stillness and religiously constructed manners.

And difficult in a personal sense perhaps in its investigation of a woman under the ruinous spell of a potently toxic man, not unlike a woman I know. And actually in this case (too?) it turns out not to be him she is so fettered to, but her own construction of him as a symbol of holiness which his actual presence could only shatter ...

cf. Chrstopher Harts's Sunday Times review

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