Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Throes Theatre Productions present To Hold an Apple written by A.S Zelman-Doring. It’s a play within a play, as three women subtly resolve their personal issues whilst improvising an imagined encounter between the reclusive aging French painter Paul Cezanne, his estranged compatriot the writer Emile Zola, and the profound Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
As the audience enter, a woman stands on stage with white socks on her hands. She is rubbing her hands together, contemplative. Once we are all seated she calls to someone over her shoulder. Is that them? Are they there? She is joined by stranger and they introduce themselves, Marie and Ada. They are both here to meet the same person. It’s established that this person, Alex, that they wait for is controlling and though they speak of her with slight irritation they are fond of her too. Alex appears and the trio are complete.
The first layer of this work is revealed. These women are performers who create theatre work from improvisations. There is a distance between Marie and Alex due to a falling out, and they have not worked together for some time. Marie has come here believing that this is an opportunity to mend bridges. Ada is here because Alex has invited her to actually work- Alex holds all the power in the relationship, warmly greeting Ada but only referring to Marie by her surname. She barks orders at the other two and their improvisation piece begins.
They adopt the persona of three revered artisans. Alex picks up a cane, bends her back, arches her shoulders, juts out her chin and becomes Paul Cezanne. He is grumpy and cantankerous. Using his cane to prod, point and at times almost stab, he holds everyone at a safe distance. Cezanne badgers Ada into adopting two characters, a housekeeper who must accept orders from the insufferable painter, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Marie breaks through the charade asking Alex who she is supposed to be, trying to attain eye contact. She fails and is thrown, like a scrap of food, the persona of Emile Zola.
The drama now unfolds as the three women establish their relationships. Cezanne is intolerant of the other two. Dismissing Rilke’s romanticism and ridiculing Zola’s success. Rilke is like a small deer taking small careful steps, pulling back when Cezanne rejects his admiration. His colourful and fantastic comments on an unfinished painting show his wide eyed curiosity and wonder at what possibilities there may be. Cezanne snorts with disgust, deflecting any analysis of his work or any comment that may expose his vulnerability. Zola on the other hand has a history with Cezanne and they spar, verbally echoing the real relationship the performer’s have.
This play has many layers and as each unfolds the real relationships they have eke their way into the improvised drama. The women manage to stay in character during the improvisation whilst tackling some of their real issues. Alex is perfectly cast as Cezanne, looking slightly arthritic; you can feel her aches and pains as she crosses the stage becoming the old man. With her, you are transported to his studio and can smell the paint and imagine the disorganised chaos. Ada’s face is full of youth and innocence. As she stares into the light, she at times looks like the Madonna, her striking features seem somewhat spiritual. Marie as Zola, is desperate for forgiveness. Revealing that she had unintentionally wounded Alex, their friction echoes the tension that existed between Cezanne and Zola.
The recurring theme is of course the apple. Cezanne offers a bite of the apple to Rilke. He refuses but watches wide eyed as the painter sinks his teeth into the fruit. It’s as if Rilke is frightened that he may lose himself if he partook, making him bitter like Cezanne and only able to see through those world weary eyes. Cezanne has seen all there is to see and chews away at mouthful with indifference. Zola tells of an occasion when Cezanne uses an apple to spoil something he has created: A defiant act of rebelliousness.
Throes Theatre Productions perform in a hotel room, proving that it can be done, and well. The cast perform on a simple stage with few props (a cane, pallet knife, socks, the apple), but make the most of them. There are clever moments as Alex forces depth into the improvisation by bringing attention to a prop that is in the trunk, demanding the other actorsuse their imagination. The simple lighting keeps all the focus on the relationships with the players showing real skill at merging their issues from on layer into another. It’s a tricky piece of writing, but the players rise to the challenge and bring it vividly to life.