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Friday, 30 March 2007

'Total Eclipse' review (English translation)

Y Cymro - 30/3/07

Over the next few weeks, I shall be looking at two shows that are currently being staged in London. Both are very different in their staging and their success. I shall start with a show that has just been officially opened this week – The Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of the dark love story ‘Total Eclipse’ by the talented Christopher Hampton.

The play follows the story of the passionate and violent relationship between two nineteenth century French poets - Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Verlaine (Daniel Evans) lives with his pregnant wife Mathilde under the oppressive atmosphere of her wealthy parents, but his life is turned upside down by the arrival of the young talented poet Rimbaud (Jamie Doyle). Verlaine is seduced by his beauty and brilliance, and abandons his conservative lifestyle in order to run-away with this young man. We follow them both as they feast their way through the bohemia of Paris and then Brussels onto London. But the high-life and their explosive and passionate relationship does not last long, and play turns to pain as Verlaine tries to kill Rimbaud, before being imprisoned for the attempt.

Being one of Hampton’s earliest plays, he is better known for his play from the eighties called ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ which was later adapted into a successful film. A film version of this play was also made in 1995 with David Thewlis and Leonardo DiCaprio portraying the two poets. Another new play by Hampton called ‘Treats’ is currently playing at the Garrick Theatre with Billie Piper, Kris Marshall and Laurence Fox in the cast.

The glory of this production is its simplicity. The audience are seated either side of the long stage, which splits the performance space, with no escape for the actors from the critical eyes of the audience. French calligraphy is projected on the bare walls and the set is lifted and taken off the stage as and when it’s needed. Paul Miller’s smooth-running production greatly appealed to me.

Personally, I would have preferred to have seen much more physical passion between Verlaine and Rimbaud; the passion between Verlaine and his wife was visible, but the poet’s relationship felt rather distant and non-physical and could have done with a big pinch on spice to accompany the Absinthe! After saying this, I guess that Miller wanted us to believe that it was the young man’s talent and mind that Verlaine had fallen for as opposed to the physical sexual passion between them.

I can but only praise Daniel Evans’ subtle yet confident portrayal of this violent and complex poet, and it’s an honour to watch him on stage. He has such amazing presence and his speech is always clear and confident, as testifies the TWO Olivier awards he’s won – the latter only a month ago for his role as Georges Seurat in the musical ‘Sunday in the Park’. Jamie Doyle’s (who’s best known for his role in the TV series ‘Shameless’) portrayal was also very successful but his lack of experience did show through from time-to-time. Both of them were at their best towards the end of the play, as they met again following Verlaine’s release from Jail, and this scene captivated all the audience, including the playwright himself!

The play can be seen at the Mernier Chocolate Factory on Southwark street in London until May 20th. Tickets are £22.50 but the theatre is offering a special meal-deal for £27.50! So a bargain, a plate-full and the poets for a very reasonable rate and a great excuse to visit London this Easter. Enjoy!

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