An approving and contented murmur rippled through the audience as the final lighting cue faded ending DE STROYED, a 70-minute monologue performance which sets out to evoke the life, times and works of French writer, Simone de Beauvoir. Actor Jillian Murray’s depiction of de Beauvoir is superlative. This production covers aspects of the author’s life, clears up the misconceptions, injects humour into very serious subjects and is extremely well staged to boot.
DE STROYED is a pastiche of several works by de Beauvoir and Murray embodies her with consummate ease. Murray’s de Beauvoir is measured, emotional and she conveys the French writer’s intellectual weight. Murray co-created this production with Suzanne Chaundry who is also the director of the piece. These two artists spent many hours reading and putting together the extracts that are used which they say spoke to them the most and which they thought would resonate with a 2018 audience.
It is not a conventional monologue where the character speaks their mind and covers important moments of one’s life. What happens in this production is that the fictional characters from de Beauvoir’s novellas are brought to life and are cleverly sequenced and joined by some of de Beauvoir’s personal letters to her long-term lover Jean-Paul Sartre. Murray mouths the words of de Beauvoir’s personal letters and the words of her fictional characters. It is a cerebral patchwork of de Beauvoir’s texts which enables the audience to gain some insight into the mind of de Beauvoir and the society of the time.
The monologue commences with her most known and controversial, The Second Sex. As the program notes state that while one person alone cannot be credited with the seismic shift in attitudes and behaviour regarding women last century, society does owe a measure of that freedom and behavioural shift to de Beauvoir when she published this text in 1949. It is an exercise in imagination for us on how radical this book was back then. How pleased would de Beauvoir be with the progress and attitudes nowadays? Even since her death in 1985, much as changed but much still needs to be changed. Would she delight in the #metoo social media campaign and the fight for pay parity between men and women?
Murray holds in the palm of her hand. Her voice is easy on the ear. Her movements are languid and self-conscious, but not overly. Chaundry’s blocking is minimal and affords us the opportunity to just listen without distraction and digest every word from these important texts. We do not grow tired of Murray’s perfect articulation and her graceful demeanour whether she remains standing or is seated.
Murray wears a simple black top and pants conveying a tone of seriousness and austerity. This black costume is juxtaposed with vibrant video projections that cover the two flats which frame the theatrical space. Zoe Scoglio’s projections complement the mood of each of the texts presented. At one point, in between scenes, vibrant colours bounce onto the flats, awakening our sense of sight after having been immersed in the deep thoughts and preoccupations during the scene before. At the start of the monologue, we are given a projection of an extreme close-up of Murray’s eye and mouth, two symbols offering the invitation for us to enter into the heart and mind of the monologue’s subject.
This piece is definitely a labour of love for both Chaundry and Murray. They are to be credited with bringing to the stage the memory of one of the most famous women in the world. Regardless of your age or gender, or how attached you are to all things Francophile, this production covers subject matter that resonates. De Beauvoir’s comments on growing old, on losing the desire and on relationship breakdown are moving and intense. Murray is captivating in this role; she gives us access to the mind of one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century.