The Lover

Jan 25 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆    Cool

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Sat 20 Jan – Sat 3 Feb 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a bittersweet delicacy to The Lover, the Lyceum’s collaboration with Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre, that cannot quite compensate for a lack of emotional fire.

The novel by Marguerite Duras draws on real-life experiences in its tale of a 15-year-old French girl, from a downwardly-mobile family in colonial Indochina, who is involved in a passionate, all-consuming affair with an older Chinese man.

Yosuke Kusano and Amy Hollinshead. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Duras herself reworked the story, and this version – by co-directors Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick, with David Greig as dramaturg – is apparently adapted from more than one source and translation. It certainly seems that way, as there are odd lurches from a more colloquial form of expression to that over-literal, archaism-stuffed way of translating French that can make the dialogue in subtitled films looks so ponderous and stiltedly philosophical.

Such awkwardness is reflected in some other elements of the production. Darkin (artistic director of Scottish Dance Theatre) and Levick (who holds the same role at Stellar Quines) have approached this with the laudable aim of creating a true fusion of dance and drama, with neither subordinate to the other. However, the two elements are constantly pulling against each other and as a result the production lacks genuine coherence.

intimacy and steel

This is definitely not the fault of Susan Vidler, whose performance as the older version of the unnamed central girl is a rare combination of intimacy and steel. The decision to have the other performers lip-synching to her recorded words is less praiseworthy, as it fails to convince even when it is done accurately.

Amy Hollinshead and Kieran Brown. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

This is despite the sterling efforts of Torben Lars Sylvest’s sound design, and when Vidler’s voice emerges from behind the audience, rather than apparently from another’s mouth, it is much more successful. Similarly, when we hear a character’s actual voice, it has an impact the ventriloquised version never achieves.

The narrative is too diffuse to have much impact; the same can be said of some of the movement. There is certainly a great deal of limpid, languid choreography; Amy Hollinshead (the Girl), Yosuke Kusano (her similarly unnamed lover), and Francesco Ferrari and Kieran Brown as her two brothers are performers of beauty and poise.

Hollinshead’s evocation of the certainties and doubts of youthful desire is particularly effective; there is one moment near the end, featuring her and her brothers, that is more evocative of hidden depths than any amount of doomy voiceovers, and makes you wonder if the whole thing might have been better done as a dance piece.


However, not all of the movement is quite so impressive. There is a lot of slithering along on the ground that is very difficult to make out from the front of the stalls.

Yosuke Kusano and Susan Vidler. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

The same is true of the depictions of the physical relationship between the girl and her lover. While it is portrayed sensitively – which is certainly a relief considering the potential pitfalls in the subject matter – it accordingly lacks a certain charge.

We are constantly being told how all-encompassing the relationship was, but there is little sultriness in what is instead rather sweet, despite the efforts of Leila Kalbassi’s dazzlingly white set and Emma Jones’s penetrating lighting to provide some more heat.

Particularly in the current climate, it is noteworthy that a production dealing with such potentially explosive themes of consent, control and abuse, and thoroughly deserving of its ‘contains nudity and adult themes’ warning, should ultimately be so unlikely to shock anyone.

This is certainly proof of seriousness of intent and of theatrical skill diligently pursued. However, it is also proof of a production that lacks an overarching vision, and never quite seems sure of its ultimate direction.

Running time 1 hour 25 minutes (no interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Saturday 20 January – Saturday 3 February 2018
Tues – Sat evenings at 7.30 pm. Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.00 pm.

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