Tuesday, 4 July 2006

La Douleur by Marguerite Duras, July 4, 2006

La Douleur by Marguerite Duras 
adapted by Laurence Strangio & Caroline Lee 
by Malthouse Theatre
Beckett theatre, Malthouse, July 4 to July 23,  2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 4, 2006

Marguerite Duras has a potent capacity to startle an audience with her simple detail. In this play based on her novella, La Douleur, her language shifts from personal to reportage, from the “I” to the “she” and the observational to the emotional.

The diary notes that comprise La Douleur were written at the end of World War One, forty years before the novella was published.  These writings were adapted for the stage by director, Laurence Strangio, and actor, Caroline Lee.

Lee, as Marguerite, restlessly paces on Anna Tregloan‘s evocative, cage-like set design. As she self-narrates the story, Lee reclines melancholically on the divan, snatches the old telephone from its cradle or paces aimlessly.

But mostly she waits. She waits for news of her husband, Robert L’s return from the German concentration camp or news of his death. Lee and Strangio capture the interminable and unbearable quality of her waiting. Time is elastic. Days stretch into weeks. 

Waiting may not be intrinsically dramatic but Duras’ intense observation of every detail of mind and body is rivetting.

Lee balances Duras’ combative attitude with her girlishness. Her light voice vibrates with fragility and suffering. She vividly creates the spectre of Robert’s emaciated body lying prone on the divan after his shocking return and evokes the shadowy presence of Marguerite’s lover, known only as D.

The emotional gulf she experiences between herself and her wretched, estranged husband and the literal ditch in which she saw a dying German soldier, are represented cunningly by a real breach in the stage.

Strangio’s direction is spare, never interfering with the text and always offering a gently abstracted physicalisation of the action.

David Franzke’s atmospheric soundscape is almost subliminal in its subtlety and Richard Vabre’s dim, smoky lighting reminds us of the half-life of pain and loss in which Marguerite and Robert are living.

The audience peers, like voyeurs, into the space from the two opposite sides of the traverse seating arrangement.

There is no melodrama in the performance, the style or in Duras’ writing. She demands out attention. The dialogue has what Duras’ described as “a tremendous chaos of feeling” that is counterpointed by the simple, plain speaking style of Lee.

In this delicately rendered solo production Duras, through Lee, reveals the atrocities of war, its horrific and unseen aftermath and the people who suffer.

By Kate Herbert

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