Splendour - Review

The construction of Abi Morgan’s play is difficult, yet fascinating and challenges both cast and audience.

Set in an Eastern European city at the time of civil war, four women await the return home of its dictator. As they drink and talk the veneer of each character is peeled away, revealing themselves in different lights.

The challenge is that this meeting is told several times with each telling offering variations on previous dialogue and switches in time. The variations are sometimes subtle, other times quite glaring. In addition the characters speak their thoughts out loud.

Whilst the main action takes place within the set – an excellent piece of construction and design – there were times when the audience’s imagination had to come into play as characters left the room and spoke off set with no props.

The production was fortunate in having actors who could do justice to such a complex and baffling text. It surely was a Herculean task just to learn lines that were not just repetitious but also carried slight variations. There was also the burden of having to deliver them in differing emotions.

Due acknowledgment must be made to director, John Norris, for guiding his cast through the labyrinth of the text and extracting the fine performances.

As Micheleine, the dictator’s wife, Sylvie Carter captured well the conflict within the woman. Trying to maintain a calm exterior and play the hostess, while all the time worrying about the absence of her husband. At the end she displayed an icy calm as she ignored the impending rout of their mansion from the victorious insurgents - refusing to leave her moment of history.

Her old friend, Genevieve, was given a sensitive portrayal by Kathrin Zeisberg. It was a touching portrait of a woman grieving for her dead husband and the rejection by her children.

Amanda Urwin-Mann’s war photographer, Kathryn managed to convey both the hard boiled exterior of the character as well as an inner vulnerability. She displayed the frustration and unease of a person who, used to being in control, finds her self at the mercy of the translator, Gilda.

Gilda provided Debbie MacKenzie with a wonderful character part – uncouth, sly and thieving yet at times almost childlike. A tough outsider full of envy and covertness yet ending up afraid and desperate.

By the interval I was coping with the spoken thoughts and the time shifts but was uncertain as to the relevance of the repetitions. On learning that these repetitions would continue I faced the second act with dread. In the event I found myself being drawn in – the subtle changes began to fascinate and became almost mesmerising - not an easy piece of theatre but one that was well worth persevering with.

 

Barrie Jerram
24 June 2007