“Revival” hardly seems the word after a 32-year gap. And yet here we have the same director, the American Stuart Seide, returning to John Ford’s masterpiece of incest, revenge and a gaggle of juicy murders. Then a new boy on the French block, Seide is now ensconced in Lille as director of the Théâtre du Nord and its theatre school, from which he has sourced his eager young cast.
This streamlined version cuts out the entire subplot, itself riddled with nastiness and corpses, to interweave extracts from Ford’s contemporaries (Donne, Herrick, Webster) and familiar chunks of Hamlet, murmured in echoing relay by members of the cast. Reflective pauses serve to concentrate the baroque decadence of this claustrophobic universe.
The set is a cross between a catwalk and a tribunal, the audience gazing down like Romans watching gladiatorial combat – and about the same amount of blood and body parts gets splashed around by the last scene. A raised dais at one end holds a vast bed, at the other the throne of authority and religious absolutism. Dead simple but clever, Charles Marty’s design highlights the tangling of public and private, the virgin as marriage commodity, the prevalence of sexual hypocrisy, the church as perverted spectator.
In case you hadn’t guessed, subtlety is not the name of the game. Extreme portrayals dominate: the fatly imperious father wearing fertility symbols, the effete and complacent husband Soranzo (Christophe Carassou) contorted with fury on finding his new bride pregnant, the grotesquely complicit nursemaid Putana (Caroline Mounier). More complex, Anna Lien’s plotting servant Vasquès is a study in warped malevolence. Less effective were the Dark Lady and the lacklustre monk with the croaky voice who reminded me of a Harry Potter dementor.
The trouble with a backdrop that repellent is that incest between two attractive young things starts to seem like a rational life choice instead of a moral dilemma. Especially when looking at Azeddine Benamara’s skilful Giovanni, physical, impassioned and convincing, and Chloé André’s sweet but sometimes insipid Annabella. This may be tragedy but we’re never in the danger zone.
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