After months of preparation, creating and rehearsing, the third year Writing, Directing and Performance students here at York were ready to unleash their new productions of French playwright Marivaux’s La Dispute and Les Acteurs. Delivered as a double bill in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television’s demanding Scenic Stage Theatre, I was lucky enough to get the chance to review the productions.
La Dispute (directed by Rosie O’Sullivan) follows two characters, the Prince and his lover Hermione (Jason Ryall and Lucy Theobald), as they argue with one another over who’s most likely to cheat first out of boys and girls. To put this to the test, the Prince arranges for four orphans to be released into an artificial world he’s created; the pair watch the orphans from a viewing gallery as they interact with each other and form relationships.
What follows is a hilarious expose on the fickle nature of chemistry and attraction, and we take great delight in watching the characters form relationships and interact with a world they’ve never seen before. While the female cast members who played the women were indeed very funny, those who played the men were fantastic to watch; they managed to perfectly strip away their feminine qualities and assume those of men, without lurching disastrously towards being a horrendous gender stereotype. I could clearly see the relationships established between the characters, and their physicality was brilliant throughout.
Anna Mawn’s set design was also fantastic, with some nice, simple features making the world of the play a truly realistic vision: this massively aided the actors in their portrayals, and the scenography as a whole was top notch. George Killick’s lighting design nicely illuminated and signified changes in mood, atmosphere and focus points throughout, and everything felt incredibly neat, tidy and well-rehearsed.
Les Acteurs (directed by James Dixon) was also a brilliant piece of theatre. Set in a wealthy madame’s house, we get to look in at the antics of Merlin (Symone Thompson), the head of an improvisational actor troupe who can’t tell the difference between a badly written soap opera and their own love lives. Meanwhile, the head of the household, Madame Argante (Holly Morgan), keeps a close eye on Merlin as he prepares what she hopes will be quite a piece of entertainment for her guests.
Les Acteurs is a bit of a tricky play to work with; its plot isn’t quite as strong as La Dispute’s, and it really shows. However, the company behind this piece have really put the effort into its translation to the stage and its development. The characters are all well-developed, and there are some real gems who shine through. Holly Morgan’s Madame Argante, for example, was an awesome force to be reckoned with, holding her head high and slapping weaker characters across the face with her strong, potent physicality and vocal chastisements.
In addition, the actors worked very well together, crafting perfectly the confusing illusion and blurring of the lines between what’s real and invented that’s present in Marivaux’s text. A more simplistic set design from Holly Dryden-Jones further allows us to focus on the awesome characters, who make up for the slightly confusing plot. But as I said earlier, Les Acteurs is a tricky text to work with, and the third years have managed to pull off one of the French playwright’s more absurd comedies with ease, flair and finesse.
Double Take: La Dispute and Les Acteurs is a brilliant double bill of work from the third years here at York. It’s fresh, engaging and some of the best work I’ve seen this year.
Double Take: La Dispute and Les Acteurs was staged by the University of York’s third year Writing, Directing and Performance students. For more information, see the University of York Department of Theatre, Film and Television website. Photo by EJS Photography.