Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Martine, Shaken and Stirred at The Finborough

The first thing I will say is that this production at one of my favourite theatres in London is only on for another three days. There are five performances left including a Saturday matinee and the final one on Saturday 17th May. This final performance is the only one that has seats left apparently. So, I'm going to make this a quick review because otherwise I won't finish it tonight and then people might not have time to see it... which would be a shame as it's haunting and sad and lovely too. So apologies in advance for the rambling and if it makes no sense.. sorry it does in my tired brain.

I would start by saying that many of the productions I see are very, very modern and the scripts are new and sparse, the narrative often just a shadow amongst dissonance. Sometimes I find myself straining to comprehend anything about these plays, but a desire to be very very loud and very very new. Not always the most impressive thing.

This is Martine, written in 1922 by the French playwright, Jean-Jacques Bernard; the script this production are working to was translated in 1985 for The National Theatre by John Fowles. There has not been a production of it in London since. This version is fabulously directed by Tom Littler of Primavera Productions and my local, Theatre 503.

It is a simple story, boy returning from war meets country girl, boy and girl fall in "love" among fields and hay, boy leaves girl for cleverer, more pulled-together ex-fiancee. Country girl is heartbroken and left alone and married off to a bullish man she hates, well aware that she is enslaved to a life of misery and infants.

Yet is far from simple too. 

Bernard was the leader of the movement of the art of the unexpressed in theatre and this translates easily to his actors in 2014. The performances are so subtle yet emotional that one can not really believe it. The women especially impressed: Hannah Murray as country girl, Martine plays her with delicacy and eroticism and awe whilst still being jovial enough for a giggle or two. She switches from barely concealed passion to resigned numbness, always with the audience in her heart. Leila Crerar as the fiancee is such a witty, pretty hoot that you understand why Julien (Barnaby Sax) chooses her. I wanted to be her best friend. Susan Penhaligon as the matriarch of the play whom everyone else revolves around is warm and engaging and yet quietly cruel in the end.

Essentially I thought two things as I left the theatre, the first is that everyone loves Martine, needs her, wants her around and she runs on after them all. Even Jeanne the sparky fiancee craves her company whilst her (eventual) husband is at work and then cannot bear once he returns. They all leave Martine in the end, except her husband who loves her but can give her none of the romance or glamour that she enjoyed for a few short weeks with Julien. But a little part of me wanted to shake her... at the end.. even though I know how difficult and different it was in those times for women. A little part of me wanted her to scream at the end and throw them all under the ship.

The second was exactly that... as women in the West, look how far we've come and how much we have. For most of us, marriage is no longer our only choice, stuck our entire lives thinking about two weeks one summer a million years ago when we loved a boy.. who married someone else. 

And yet... and yet.. nothing has changed really, as there will be unrequited love and love between different social groups or "intelligent levels" or interests. Some people will always leave others and some people will still marry for convenience. These days we are just LOUDER about it.

If you get the chance to see Martine, I wouldn't miss it. It's a lesson in subtlety and fleeting love and sacrifice and the acting is commendable. I'd book future plays purely on the merit of those three female performances.

Martine at the Finborough Theatre until 17th May

118 Finborough Road
SW10 9ED

Images (c) Finborough Theatre

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