Paul Higgins clearly wants to push the boundaries of community drama – and his adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 19th century novella certainly does that. His cast of five tell the tale of a convent girl whose mother runs a Parisian bordello…and the ugly consequences that arise when the truth emerges.
On the surface the characters deploy their finer senses to discuss Indian spiritualism, European philosophy and how best to wear a beard. But we’re in a brothel … so there are other matters.
Directing himself, Higgins gets the best out of his very able actors; especially Angie Beechey and David Shuker, who seem to have the most to give. They really rise to the play’s considerable demands.
Angie is excellent as the ‘Madame’; a scarlet temptress of considerable prowess and presence. We see a perfect portrait of a worldly-wise widow who is making a living to support her daughter, whilst also serving society. She’s not only supplying the love-hungry men of Paris with what they desire, but also providing a sanctuary of employment for unmarried mothers. Dressed in vibrant red in an otherwise two-tone production, she delivers her well-weighted and fully comprehended lines with expert precision.
The same is equally true of David Shuker as the Duke, who has the unenviable task of making us sympathise with an aging man, trapped in his infatuation for a young convent virgin. It’s a commanding performance. He has a wonderfully natural way with words and doesn’t miss a nuance. His physical frustration is clear…as is his need to comply with polite society manners.
Inevitably, the toughest part goes to the least experienced actor. Catherine Nicholson conveys the enigma of the peach skinned, raven-haired Yvette very well; plus the deep sense of insecurity she must feel on leaving the convent. Her aging suitor describes her as an ‘unformed riddle’ …which Catherine has got to a ‘T’. But she achieves this by playing down the part – when a bit more up-front, teenage fire wouldn’t go amiss.
The premise of the plot, that Yvette (who’d already shown sexual tendencies with another novice) had no idea what Mummy did for a living, is not easy to accept. That unlikelihood must be difficult for an actor to work with and Catherine’s early tentativeness in the play gives her later, more extreme actions insufficient foundation.
In fact the whole first hour of the play would benefit from the trimming of longueurs and the application of a little ‘umph’. I can see the intention; that the play should slowly build towards its tragedy. But, despite the tell-tale sound effects, there is little signposting of the gathering storm.
There are, however, some classic lines to add to one’s life experience. The sad, romantic Duke opines, “In love, all men are idiots” (and who can argue with that?) whilst the pragmatic proprietoress instructs her daughter “You don’t choose a man because he amuses you!”
There is much to enjoy in the themes, conversations and performances in this play; which will particularly appeal to connoisseurs of period drama.
‘Yvette’ can be seen at The Theatre on the Steps in Bridgnorth on Thurs 26th November; The Hive in Shrewsbury on the 28th; Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton on Wednesday 2nd December; and The Sparc in Bishop’s Castle on the 3rd.
www.dogpoledramacompany.com for tickets