This adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ La Musica at the Young Vic is not a piece of theatre that will stick with me and probably a good reminder on why this has not been performed on the London stage for over 20 years. This short play about a couple who meet in a hotel room to finalise their divorce doesn’t grab the attention and drags too often.
There’s so little in the story to get excited about that director Jeff James has looked to theatrical tricks to keep the audience engaged. This is always a parlous affair. If the story is weak, there’s nothing that can be done and instead, attempts to compensate for this, can seem overdone. Which is what has happened here.
For the first 30 minutes He (Sam Troughton) and She (Emily Barclay) are perched on a (very) high platform in the corner of the studio. Backs to the audience. They are facing video cameras and close-ups of their faces are projected to the audience via large screens at the front of the room.
This is a high risk strategy. Opinions really are divided on whether heavy use of video cameras and film footage in theatre works and for 30 minutes that is all this show has. Two forensically close-up shots of two faces awkwardly discussing what they’ve been doing and trying to agree what should be done with common possessions.
And it kind of works and it kind of doesn’t. Yes, we get to see those twitches, those tiny giveaway reactions to the odd revelation made by the other but the shocks and twists are so thin on the ground that they don’t come around often enough to make this work. There’s no great revelation that makes you gasp.
Then for the second half of the show, cameras are switched off, the two actors come down to the ground floor, we’re kicked out of our chairs and required to surround the actors so they can perform the rest in the round.
I suppose the close quarters is meant to draw us in, involving us as these two reveal inevitable affairs (which of course you can see coming). Only both kind of knew the other was cheating so neither is surprised. The beat of the play doesn’t switch up. There’s no blazing row, no sobs and tears, just a steady acceptance that as people change, so do their affections for others.
If I was being mean, I’d say this was a great study in how boring couples and relationships can be. If I was being generous, I would say that the two performances from Emily Barclay and Sam Troughton are impressive, even more so when you realise they don’t have much to work with.
Young Vic Theatre, London to October 17, 2015
Production photos by David Sandison