Prior to last Wednesday night, I had never actually successfully seen a production at La Mama. This is because I always go to the wrong venue and wind up missing the play. Just for the record and for those of you out there who may also be suffering from early onset dementia, there are two La Mama venues-one on Drummond Street and one on Faraday. Luckily I scraped in by the skin of my teeth this time, managing to get to Faraday to see one of La Mama’s latest productions, opening night of L’Amante Anglaise, which is on until the 26th of July.
The Faraday La Mama has a very wholesome feel and if it wasn’t for this ridiculous minus100 degree weather we are experiencing in Melbourne at the moment, it would be a great little spot to grab a glass of wine, a programme to flick through and an old friend to talk to whilst you warm your hands on the contained fires in the quaint courtyard. Carlton Wine Room is also conveniently situated over the road so you can be sure to have your post-play discussion in style, with wine and oysters.
I was excited for this play and although I didn’t know anything about it synopsis wise, it was the promotional still that had drawn me in. It looked somewhat chilling and I thought that perhaps I was in for a night of intrigue. I was right about the intrigue and while the story wasn’t a ‘who done it?’ it was definitely a ‘why and how did you do it?’ which appealed to my desire for macabre content from time to time.
This production of L’Amante Anglaise consisted of a cast of two, Robert Meldrum and Jillian Murray who remained seated for the majority of the play. The different acts were distinguished by the separate questioning or calm interrogation of the two characters that they portrayed, Pierre and Claire (a married couple who resided in the house where a murder had taken place). The characters were questioned independently about their relationship as husband and wife and the murder of their house guest-Claire’s deaf, dumb and horizontally challenged cousin, Marie-Therese. The actors also facilitated narration in the beginning, informing the audience about the murder and subsequent dismemberment of Marie-Therese, whom Claire had unapologetically and for no apparent reason, decided to kill.
I hate to say that despite the thrilling content, I was getting bored for quite a while at the start. I am aware that saying ‘I was getting bored’ at the theatre makes me sound pretty unsophisticated but despite the performances that were indeed strong, I had nothing to look at! I have a tendency to be like a bowerbird at the theatre and there was literally no stage/set design apart from a very pointed decision to utilise two chairs in the middle of the space. There was also no soundtrack or effects from memory and the costumes were not overly era or as it seemed, character specific. I can understand that the key creatives must have made a conscious decision to pare everything back in service of the script, but until I began to engage with the story, which only happened when Claire was questioned about the murder half way through, the play just wasn’t thrilling. With all of this said, the minimalism of the set actually worked for them in the end and the decision to always have the back of one of the actors to the majority of the audience at any given time was an interesting and effective choice.
Where I was disengaged with the material were the moments of line fumbling that were minor but occurred a little too frequently even for an opening night, the complete lack of a soundtrack and the minimal lighting. I think that these latter elements could have been incorporated more effectively to enhance the sinister tone embedded in the writing.
Despite all of this, to say I didn’t have a worthwhile night at the theatre would be unfair, I did actually enjoy this play and that was partially because the story became increasingly more gripping towards the end. This was because of moments in Jillian Murray’s haunting portrayal of the murderess. At first sweet and coy, Claire was the ultimate killer character because it came as a shock when finally her violent and unrelenting colours were revealed to us. I left wanting more of Claire’s deranged confessions and wished that the writing had indulged me.
Despite the slow start and complete lack of razzle dazzle, this no-frills production is worth checking out, if only to see a thoroughly creepy performance from Jillian Murray. In true charismatic killer style, I ended up being simultaneously repelled and drawn to Claire, which is generally the test of a pretty skilled actor.