17 April 2009

Jacques and his Master by Milan Kundera
Translated by Simon Callow

Mother/Agathe's Mother - Judith Coke
Master - Aden Gillett
Justine - Hazel Holder
Young Bigre/Police Officer - Syrus Lowe
Chevalier - Joseph Millson
Innkeeper - Siobhan Redmond
Jacques - Simon Trinder
Daughter/Agathe - Rebecca Whitehead
Marquis/Old Bigre - Simon Wilson

Directed by David Lan
In the little studio at the Young Vic as part of the Paris Calling season. I sat in the second row with an intimate audience.

I have something of an addiction to rehearsed readings. I think part of the attraction is that you know the actual experience it a total one-off. They are rarely done more than once and because the time commitment is so small (usually 2 days or three at the most) you find amazing actors doing them. That is how I came to see Gina McKee, Andrew Scott and Nicolas Tennant at the Soho Theatre last month. This sparked my interest in a wonderful programme happening in London called Paris Calling though the website is a bit of a nightmare to navigate in my opinion. I would really love to see the Cheek By Jowl piece but I can't afford it and tickets are hard to get now.

So to compensate, I have been noting the various smaller productions and there are several rehearsed readings - at the Hampstead, Young Vic, National, Tricycle, Bush etc. I knew there was this one happening on Friday & I wanted to book a ticket there to see the lovely William Ash whose show starts on the evening after the NT Paris Calling reading.

It was mayhem at the theatre. The bar was packed on both floors and Katie Mitchell's Dido is a sell-out so people were spilling out of every entrance & I could hardly get by.

The writer was Czech born but has lived in Paris for nearly 30 years, I believe. He could almost be the Czech version of Beckett. That the piece was translated by Simon Callow speaks volumes.

The main story centres around Jacques played to wonderful effect by someone unknown to me called Simon Trinder but interesting to see he was in Simon Callow's Merry Wives production. This cheeky young man has a great future. As you might imagine, the other main character was the Master played by House of Elliot's own Aden Gillett. To simplify the thrust of this work, pairs of people try to trick each other in love with a third party by devious means. The third party elements are almost innocents but easily lead. The play is in three acts but they worked straight through with just a dimming of lights between acts.

Joseph was beautifully cast as a dashing devil on horseback appropriately called Chevalier. His honeyed tones could persuade anyone to walk into a trap to further his own lust for evil sport. The big clue was that throughout his performance, he carried a silly yellow plastic comedy sword. He could have been a knight in shining armour but he most certainly wasn't - just deliciously and charmingly manipulative. There was a moment when he did some furious lewd tongue action and he was also very physically funny with something else but I can't recall it now. No playtexts were available that I could see. The cast had printouts rather than photocopies from a book, so it is my guess they just had Simon's translation and there is nothing published.

The play is an hilarious exploration of Jacques and his master's desire for love and it's intertwined with a sort of knowing play within a play (within another play) whereupon the playwright is deemed to be a heavenly being, one might say God. He was constantly referred to with skyward gestures. All the way through, Jacques is trying to tell his Master how he first lost his cherry but all manner of other stories interrupt. There was also a farce element to the circular interaction of the characters. In some ways, it was quite a complicated piece but the humour helped it along and justice prevailed as Chevalier was mortally wounded by the Master's bright red plastic sword in the end.

I blow hot and cold with Aden over his career but he was gorgeous in this and once again, I think he was perfectly cast. He was pompous and smarmy but also vulnerable and charming. Siobhan had a very small role but she was lovely. Rebecca Whitehead
& Simon WIlson were lovely too - they all were and as a production it was very thoroughly prepared with a lot more physical action than you sometimes get at readings.

A fun evening that I am glad to have persevered through the awful weather to see.