LA MUSICAby Marguerite Duras
translated by Barbara Bray
Young Vic 2015
Director Jeff James
Light Jo Jolson
Sound and Music Ben and Max Ringham
Casting Lotte Hines
Assistant Director Rachel Lincoln
Production Photographs David Sandison
If you’ve ever sat in a public space and overheard a couple raking over their most fraught personal secrets, you’ll have an idea of what La Musica is like. You want to lean in closer, to catch every awful word, but you would hate to be caught doing so....
Jeff James’s streamlined, voyeuristic production has fun clashing the personal with the public. For the first half the actors sit far away from us, looking out at the dusk high on a platform in a corner of Ultz’s set. Video cameras hone in tightly on their faces, which get projected on to a pair of ping pong table-sized screens. Barclay’s sad smiles are gigantic. Troughton’s sweatier intensity is unavoidable. You can see the moisture on their teeth.
Then they come into our space. We sit or stand around them as they detail their restlessness, their affairs, the time he planned to shoot her...
It depicts their exciting but unsustainable attraction with a fully clothed eroticism that you rarely see on stage, give or take a Closer or a Pains of Youth. It’s an awkward customer, a sexy beast, and one to remember.
Marguerite Duras's intricate two-hander – so carefully constructed it might have been put together with tweezers – is one of the finest studies of love in the past tense ever written. It is a total heartfuck. Tartare raw. As Anne-Marie and Michel talk, old wounds re-open and old feelings rekindle. They can go nowhere. It is painfully sad....
All this simmers out of Jeff James's eloquent ache of a production, which uses the play's shape to tease out its meaning. James has assisted Ivo Van Hove. It shows: this is theatre as sculpture, pared back and infinitesimally precise.
Designer Ultz splits the two halves with different stagings, reconfiguring the space to draw out the differences. First, Sam Troughton and Emily Barclay sit side by side on a bench, backs to us, silhouetted as they stare out at the real city, their reflections doubling up in the window. Their faces appear, in close up, on two cinema screens. They look in opposite directions from separate screens, and we see every tiny flicker of feeling, every involuntary reaction...
The second scene plays in a scrum: the audience huddled around the actors. We rub shoulders and clash elbows, close enough to smell one another. This time, Troughton and Barclay lock eyes and lock horns. They dance around one another, flirting and fighting and growing frustrated with themselves and each other, with their hearts and their impossible situation. As the lights go up, they see one another in full and they know they have to part ways. As I say, ‘Oof.' Loved it.