Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Owl Farm Theatre
Venue: Diverse Attractions, Lawmarkets
Creative interpretation of Marivaux’s classic experiment in which four babies are brought up in isolation from the rest of the world in a bid to re-enact the dawn of creation. And we thought that reality voyeurism was a 21st century phenomenon!
Marivaux’s play got booed off the stage at its first performance in 1744 and was promptly shelved – for nearly 200 years. Not unlike a few Fringe productions I imagine. The play’s true renaissance occurred in the 1970’s with Chereau’s dark reinterpretation which, arguably, opened the play up to audiences beyond the French border and paved the way for a series of innovative and successful adaptations of the original work.
Andy Hyman is following what is now a relatively well-trodden path but has still produced an interesting version of what has eventually become one of the most arresting tragic comedies in French literary history.
The play centres on an experiment being conducted by a French prince in which four new-born babies, two of either sex, are reared in isolation from one another and the world in a rural location. This production chose a forest and four buildings set in a square, triggering immediate comparisons with reality TV shows and 21st century voyeurism. The four people are connected by one individual, a nurse who ministers to their needs until they reach the age of 19, whereupon they are given their liberty to re-enact the dawn of creation.
And so the comedy begins as they start to emerge from their respective chrysalises. First Egle, beautiful but fascinated with her reflection in the stream to the point of narcissism. She is introduced to Azor and they fall instantly in love (of course), pledging never to part for a moment. Azor is sent on an errand by Cerise, the nurse, allowing the wonderfully snooty and feline Adine, the chance to cross claws with the continually preening Egle. Azor meets his male contemporary Mesrine and forms a typically modern male bond, all high fives and laddish banter about girlfriends. Finally Mesrine meets Adine, the totally expected happens and we have achieved mathematical purity by going through the six possible pairings in a set of four people.
So the scene is set for the denouement, the real reason for the whole experiment – who is going to be the first to be unfaithful. That’s where the surprise lies in this interpretation – you are left to judge for yourself as first Azor proclaims his love for Adine and Mesrine his for Egle. Wonderfully childish behaviour from the two girls is witnessed as the final showdown progresses, coupled with suitably volte face statements from the men, rather like pompous politicians changing sides.
This was a tale well told. Using four actors as an allegory for the single Prince in the original play, here in the guise of party going voyeurs, helped to set the scene and interpret the action at critical points ensuring that no-one lost the plot. It also created a neat symmetry with the four people involved in the experiment. The main characters themselves were nicely formed although Cerise could have been played with a bit more gravitas. Physical exploration was pragmatic, kept to hand touching, a single dance at a critical moment and the very occasional kiss, leaving plenty of space for witty, at times catty and engaging dialogue between both quartets.
Sometimes you get really nice surprises at the Fringe. I would have to confess that this would not have been my first choice of show to see on a Friday night at prime time. But I came away having been both entertained and educated which is a tribute to all those involved. The show’s finished now at the Fringe, but there are plans for a tour later this year. Go along and be pleasantly surprised yourself, it’s worth a bit of a detour.