A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

 

Les Enfants Terribles


By Jean Cocteau


Adapted by Helen Shutt


Directed by Joel Cottrell

 


White Bear Theatre

 

24 July – 11 August 2012

 

 

Jean Cocteau’s 1929 Les Enfants Terribles began as a novel, has been turned into a film and latterly in 2005, an opera by Phillip Glass. Glass brought in the services of American Choreographer Susan Marshall, to expand Cocteau’s expressionistic core - this is key.


Siblings, Elisabeth and Paul, concoct a private world – symbolised by the wall of treasures – which is publicly acknowledged/observed by their loyal friends Gerard and Agathe. This intense world is a honeyed-trap. It is claustrophobic, and uncomfortable in its incestuous overtones, as the young gladiators slug it out. Cocteau’s world is fragile, cruel and youth-focused. Doom-laden from the start, Elisabeth and Paul are caught within a fierce competitiveness. This is a game which will lead to tragic consequences.   


Central to the on-stage action is the believability of the relationship between the siblings and their hapless puppet consorts. There were moments in this production, directed by Joel Cottrell, when all four protagonists achieved this, but not necessarily at the same time. The production felt like a labour of love. Yet sometimes love is blind. The central challenge is to balance Cocteau’s sense of mystery and clarity. The strokes here were too general.


The plot relies on three off-stage presences: the siblings’ infirm mother who dies, Michael, Elisabeth’s fiancé, killed in a car crash, and significantly, Paul’s childhood nemesis, Dargelos.  Agathe looks like Dargelos. Throughout they press in on the siblings. Time passes, sometimes literally, as Elisabeth, Alice Beaumont, moves the hands on the clock. Or in the angst-ridden, juxtaposed action as Agathe, Alma Fournier-Carballo, and Paul, Josh Taylor, in love with one another, show their secret agony in their separate worlds. These were stylised moments which matched the episodic intensity of the play.   


The use and creation of space is central to this idea. The set, designed by Amber Dernulc, is cluttered, resembling, in the first half, a very disgruntled teenager’s bedroom. It also restricts movement, while the treasure wall which houses the siblings’ trophies, or scalps, is not clearly visible. The second half, Cocteau-style, is full of melodramatic pitfalls: letters, subversion, poison. The setting is the more opulent location of Michael’s house which the siblings occupy after his death. Dernulc places the beds at right angles allowing more central acting space, but the illusion of Elisabeth crossing first from one room to the other was lost, leaving Beaumont stranded and under-powered at times.  


The choice of music, which was eclectic, included Strauss, Bach, Jacques Brel, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This was successful , as it was more obviously theatrical. The variety of styles fits the rugged weave that Cocteau creates through the central pair. Alice Beaumont’s Elisabeth shows a steely manipulation, particularly in the first half. Josh Taylor’s tragic Paul is believable, making the shift from peevish adolescent to tragic lover well. Similarly, Alma Fournier-Carballo’s Agathe, shows a natural delicacy and grace. While Max Krupski’s Gerard is a perfect, trusting, foil to the cloying, intensity between brother and sister…….

 

 

Box Office 020 7793 9193
Book tickets online at www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk
Tues to Sat 7:30pm
Sunday 6pm
Tickets £14/£10
White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Road
London SE11 4DJ
 

 

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