Fringe Online 2021
Directed by Simon Evans for JST’s Footprints Festival. Designed by Louie Whitmore. Lighting by Johanna Town’s simple. Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. Till July 1st. Filmed and may be later available as stream.
Leaves. How Parisian that is. Henry Wicks is here to present his book on Villon at JST Footprints Festival, and will talk entirely in French – so if you want to leave… Though wholly bilingual, Wicks – very like writer JHW Mildon and his performer self David Mildon – is rocked back to find the edition of Villon he’s got isn’t French. It’s a favourite translation into English – Brian Staveley’s. What else is lost and found? How has it got here at JST? Perhaps the beautiful older woman who had felt so acutely his reading out that older woman in Villon’s poem slitting her wrists is a way out of fading like a leaf, might tell us.
Why is it she feels he can save her by reading to her, filling her body with words before they make love? And why do they seem to age her?
As James Fenton once put it ‘I’m in Paris with you.’ ‘I can teach you’ the beautiful Frenchwoman tells Wicks, or Henry; and her kiss is his initiation. And Villon ‘this whorehouse where we hold our court’ – and life collide ecstatically ‘oui… oui… oui.. oui’. Back with her easy-going husband and their library she enumerates her sweet futilities, her generosity her being a good lover so her husband’s the envy of his friends, the interruption of car horns as she’s kind and over-generous to her staff.
But as Villon’s portrayal of hanged men swinging in the winds (a fate projected for Villon himself) Wicks asks where this woman almost erupting from Villon’s words can come from? Reading to her, making love, Wicks asks his mission, walking in the rain, reading Rimbaud and Verlaine’s ‘Il pleur dans mon coeur’ ‘and then bends double, the grey in her hair more visible…’ Will Anne Sexton help? But after sex what’s this? Two black words under her skin?
Directed by Simon Evans for JST’s Footprints Festival Leaves is designed by Louie Whitmore with a simple lectern and minimal clean lighting by Johanna Town. Mildon’s natural lectern manner beautifully dishevels into something distracted as he apologises. His tale ravels dark and strange, rich with regrets and one feels the very sharp of autumn leaves stinging the narrative.
It’s a finely contained performance and with dual heritage, Mildon’s French is flawless – even as he suggests Henry Wicks as a young man stumbles over it, and characterises that look of gently mocking laughter the French can bring to anyone who makes a heroic effort to speak French with understanding, if not intonation.
And then there’s Wicks’ lover’s son, more gutturally realised. ‘Malade’ he keeps asserting, older than Wicks. Then the older Wicks opines with feeling wit: ‘No man has ever realised the effect his mother has on other men. If he did there’d be more suicides!’ And that line of favourite verse tattood on his lover? Sexton. Is he writing on her body?
After Wicks is asked to linger and return when he’s thought of what to ask for the woman shows him a hem, a dress and a new tattoo ‘something wicked’ and more blue veins…. And a locked office. Whose books contain curiously familiar names of a very different stamp. But what’s wrong with her and how can Wicks continue as she sickens, and is he responsible? And naked again, she’s a different revelation.
It ends with a haunting. ‘And now I’ve told you. Now I’ve read to you. You won’t thank me. I am sorry.’
Leaves is brought by Creative Producer Sarah Lawrie and Small Things Theatre. Brian Staveley’s ‘beautiful translations’ are also real and he’s thanked in the credits. The show is ‘dedicated to the memory of Isabelle Duperray. A remarkable Actress, Teacher, Friend & Mother.’
This haunting 45-minute tale – circling round Villon like an unquiet grave – is a superb small gem from Jermyn Street’s Footprints Festival.