The Osborne Studio Gallery is a quaint venue; chic enough to lend the elegant feel of a Parisian salon in 1955 and with just enough space so that the actors aren’t encroaching on the audience, it maintains a solid intimacy throughout and serves as a charming location for a revival of Alfred De Musset’s 168-year-old play. Having only been performed twice before in the English translation by Peter Meyer, with one of those being a radio play in 1955, director Martin Parr has found a true gem in this short piece A Door Must Be Kept Open or Shut.
The plays tells of a bachelor Baron who, on a rainy Tuesday, calls on the widowed Marquise, at first seemingly without purpose, until the dialogue gradually builds and he is compelled to profess his love for her. Despite being written in the nineteenth century, elements of Musset’s work still retain significance for today’s audience, as the pair play out a verbal battle of the sexes, debating on what defines appropriate and suitable etiquette for courtship.
Parr is right on the money in his direction, doing justice to Musset’s sharp and witty dialogue with a precise and attentive eye, each line and every moment has been thought through so as to deliver a piece that excels in acknowledging the subtle intricacies of the text and brings honesty to the more absurd moments, without once becoming over-indulgent. In addition, Ana Maria Rincon’s dulcet tones inject this production with beautiful bursts of wistful singing, alongside music composed by Laurence Cummings. The music, which includes Musset’s poem upon which the play was based, sung in its original French, tops and tails this 50 minute piece nicely, and adds a much needed romanticism to balance out the Marquise’s cold hostility.
Katherine Heath is excellent as the Marquise and finds a natural rhythm between her manipulative and blasé front, and her later displays of vulnerability. Christopher Staines gives an endearing performance as the irritatingly polite, persistent and besotted Baron, and is a suitable match for Heath. Both actors give truthful performances that complement each other whilst managing to navigate the tight space well; visibility is a forgivable and only minor issue that doesn’t ever distract from the scene.
This is a strong and engaging production, filled with charisma, in a delightful gallery in Belgravia that makes a worthy revival of this lesser known work.
A Door Must Be Kept Open or Shut is playing at The Osborne Studio Gallery until 22 September. For more information and tickets, see The Osborne Studio Gallery website.