"War, family, poetry and wine"
by Laura Kressly for remotegoat on 23/02/14

Consisting of rich scarlet drapes over dilapidated, dusty wooden furniture, the stage sets the tone for the production to come. The play flips between two opposing worlds: a genteel Edwardian stately home and the WWI front line. Centered around two characters, cousins Charles and Alfred, the play negotiates family, cultural differences, poetry and war. Unfortunately, this newly commissioned play lacks plot, instead it slowly meanders through episodes of the characters’ lives with very little happening. It has a somewhat Chekhovian feel.

When they first meet, the French Charles and his sister Marie-Anne have come to William’s home in the English countryside. Marie-Anne is to be the governess of Charles and William’s son, Alfred. The audience never really learns why they are there; this is one of the questions that the writing never answers. Séverine Masse gives the audience a sweet, nuanced performance as Marie-Anne. Gabriel Wood (Alfred) is adorable and very comfortable on stage but Jan Wood’s Charles outshines him in versatility. For child actors, the two boys clearly have much performance experience. James Peacock plays William, the eccentric and obsessive gentleman with mostly one tone but the character seems to have been written without much depth.

The parallel storyline follows grownup Alfred and Charles as soldiers who meet in the trenches of the Great War. These scenes are far superior. Tom Grace (Alfred) and Lula Suassuna (Charles) steal the show. They have not seen each other since they lived together in England. Throughout their scenes, they discuss wine, poetry, family and other topics but the plot does not really progress in these sequences even though they are better performed.

Flipping back to the past, the audience meets some other characters: Aunt Constance (Virge Gilchrist), Uncle Henry (Jonathan Rigby) and Louis (Alexander Devrient). All three contribute distinct, contrasting characters who make a dinner scene much more dynamic. It is a shame that they are not in the play more. Though the play lacks in dynamic storyline within the defined structure, the characters are well-developed and the acting is very good.

The ending leaves many questions unanswered and feels very abrupt. The English estate scenes finish with Marie-Anne speaking in French and holding a gun aloft after a confrontation with her Uncle William but the audience, unless they speak French, do not know what she plans to do. The wartime scenes end with an abstract sequence and nothing feels resolved or completed. Though the language, ridden with poetry, was beautiful, nothing much was said that progressed the story. Many themes were touched on, but it was never fully explored what the consequences of these grand ideas are.

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