Every now and again you see a show that the entire theatre world has raved about for months. You missed the first season but you heard great things. You arrive at the theatre for the revived season full of excitement and expectation. And then you spent almost two hours in the dark, with your head cocked with confusion, trying to see what everyone else has seen in the show. Such was the case with me and L’amante anglaise.
After a critically acclaimed sell-out season at La Mama last year, the show has been brought to fortyfivedownstairs for an encore season. Based on true events, it tells the story of a deaf-mute woman murdered and dismembered, her body parts strewn along train tracks, everything recovered apart from the head. We know that Claire (Jillian Murray) – a strange but (until now) non-violent woman – committed the crime, and so the play is less of a whodunnit than a whydunnit. Details of the crime, the murderess and her husband (Rob Meldrum), emerge in two scenes: both police interviews conducted by an impassive but interested interrogator.
Both Meldrum and Murray’s performances are solid and restrained; they play together well and find interesting moments with one another to reveal layered, complex characters. Strangio’s stark and understated direction matches the script, and his respect and commitment to Duras’ text is palpable. The simple design – too often passed over these days in favour of flashy sets – puts the actors and the text into the spotlight, though the traverse seating makes it frustratingly difficult to stay with both actors, particularly if you are sitting in the aisle.
The play is fine. The performances are fine. The direction is fine. A good dramaturg was what this production was missing. The choices within the script itself, and Strangio’s direction, felt chronically uninterrogated throughout the production. While it didn’t feel particularly ungrounded or confused, there was more that could have been done with Duras’ script. Further exploration of rhythm and silence could have lead to some interesting moments between the two characters. The entire play is one character’s interrogation of another, both in a police interview room and in a marriage. Interrogation is a form of play, and it would have been more engaging to see the cast strike notes other than that of ‘calm and interested’ or ‘strange and aloof’.
L’amante anglaise is being raved about. I found it to be uninspiring. I suppose, as with so much of theatre, this may just come down to personal taste.