Alfred de Musset
Translation by Peter Meyer
Directed by: Martin Parr
Pros: Wonderfully witty dialogue and brilliant performances.
Cons: The punctuation of brief operatic interludes seemed a little out of place.
Our Verdict: Great entertainment in an unusual setting makes for a special evening of theatre.
I was intrigued by the prospect of attending this show given that it is being staged in an art gallery in Belgravia rather than an auditorium. We were welcomed into the gallery and brought downstairs to the performance area, a pretty space and refreshing change of pace for a regular theatregoer. The evening of theatre is completed by an accompanying exhibition and drinks in the garden, making it all a very civilized affair. The performance space is small and narrow but is utilised fully by the actors. At some points with an actor at either end it felt a bit like watching a tennis match with the audience heads turning back and forth in sync to follow the verbal volleys.
Written in 1845, the play follows the attempts by The Baron, played by Christopher Staines, to court The Marquise and is based on the real life love and infatuation of De Musset for a neighbour. Having read up on the play beforehand, sexual politics amongst the Paris aristocracy had conjured up images of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and I was expecting powdered wigs and silk gowns. However moving the setting to 1955, when the play was translated to English by Peter Mayer, was equally effective.
The Marquise is widowed, wealthy and attracting new suitors. She is pragmatic in her future plans as she is only too aware that to become a mistress rather than a wife will greatly reduce her social standing, which once lost cannot be regained. With this in mind she is not to be swayed by dramatic declarations of romantic love and wastes no time in making this clear to The Baron. Unfortunately he has fallen woefully in love with her and cannot help but wear his heart on his sleeve. This sets the scene for superbly witty and acerbic verbal exchanges as they lock horns over heart versus head.
Both actors are well matched, giving wonderful performances that bring the dialogue to life beautifully. Katherine Heath as The Marquise comes across as hard and cruel as she measures her suitors. The Baron gains our sympathy with his seemingly hopeless attempts at melting her froideur. It provides the perfect conditions for an examination of the business of love and marriage from the viewpoint of both genders in a time before the term ‘gender equality’ had been coined.
The only sticking point for me was the use of brief interludes of opera to mark the breaks between acts. The soprano, Ana Maria Rincon, had just a line or two on each occasion, which didn’t really allow her to get into her stride; no sooner had she started than she had finished. Her lines were taken from a poem that De Musset had written about his love so although it was pertinent to the story it didn’t quite work as transitional interludes for me.
Altogether this is a charming evening of theatre, made all the more special for being performed in such an unusual setting. A small audience of around 30 creates a very intimate atmosphere and the great performances were clearly appreciated by all. With the running time under an hour, you have time to enjoy the other offerings of the evening, including the specially curated exhibition. As a side note, along with the theatre programme audience members receive a special offer for Motcombs restaurant, located a few doors away. On presentation of your programme after the show you can enjoy a 2 course meal and a half bottle of wine for £22.50 per person. Although we didn’t indulge in it, it sounds like a great way to round off an evening while you discuss the finer points of the play.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
A Door Must Be Kept Open Or Shut runs at the Osborne Studio Gallery until 22nd September 2013.