[author-post-rating] (2/5 Stars)
Honoré de Balzac’s 1833 novel Eugénie Grandet is, for the first time, brought to the stage in an adaption from Jonathan Choat for Hartshorn-Hook Productions at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Eugénie Grandet (Jo Hartland), a young woman with no siblings, is the focus for this period piece, as her father M. Grandet (Roger Watkins) builds up his estate, keeping his wealth under wraps from prying hands. All is going to plan until Charles (Jack Parry-Jones), a cousin of Eugénie’s, arrives and steals Eugénie’s heart (emotionally of course). As for the rest of the story, well you’ll have to catch the show to find out, but the focus is on young love, the depths in which we go to accumulate wealth and how money can so easily turn someone’s life sour.
For a story that is oozing with bold themes and imagery, it is a shame that Eugénie Grandet is so disappointing. The narrative is perfectly able to entertain but it staggers along in Choat’s adaption for the stage. Lines feel glued together, with large narrative chunks missing in favour of a speedy performance, but even at one hour 20 minutes, this performance feels stagnant. There’s a distinct lack of narrative arc that hinders not only the text, but also the actors’ abilities to travel any distance with their characters’ journeys. The time in which Harland’s Eugénie is meant to develop into maturity is scarcely seen, and there’s little in the way of emotive connections – which is strange given she is the one character that we are compelled to follow and sympathise with.
There are moments of comedy which are much needed, but even in the dramatic climaxes of the play there is something distinctly missing from Donnacadh O’Briain’s direction. The play is delivered with little heart, an essential element to make any play thrive, but why this is I’m unsure. It is just a feeling that comes from watching Eugénie Grandet. Perhaps the rest of the audience, somewhat older, could appreciate the work more than me, but when the performances become predictable there’s a degree of switching off from your engagement with the work.
Watkins, as M. Grandet, is far too over-the-top with his acting, and Parry-Jones fails to ignite any passion in his love for Eugénie, but this I am sure is less to do with the acting abilities than that of the direction given. Eugénie Grandet needs a good deal of fire to be stoked beneath the feet of this cast to get the energy and emotive levels raised, but this can’t be achieved with the current script. It’s predictable and whilst there are merits to be found in the supporting cast, there are too many big mistakes in this piece, which just feels tired. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest lover of period pieces, but I can appreciate and revel in one does bring when it is written and directed with force; Eugénie Grandet certainly is not one of these. Ultimately it’s a shame that Balzac’s novel has been given a poor introduction to the stage.
Eugénie Grandet is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26th August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.