La Maladie de la Mort at The Lyceum Theatre takes the 1982 novella by Marguerite Duras and turns it into a live theatre/cinema performance and, although the concept is intriguing, and the core essence of many of the questions raised by Marguerite Duras in her original text are still here, there is for me something just not working and connecting at some level and, to be honest, I am not 100% sure what it is as the list of creatives involved in this work is impressive.
Perhaps one of the problems is the very core of the text. It tells the story of a man who pays a woman (not a prostitute) to spend several weeks with him by the sea to learn "how to love". Can you actually “learn how to love”? If you are not capable of experiencing the emotional spectrum at some level of “love” is this detachment actually allowing you to live, or are you already “dead” in some way already and only awaiting the inevitable final death of your physical body?
Our two central characters in this exploration The Woman (Laetitia Dosch) and The Man (Nick Fletcher) give fine performances but, all through, The Man’s reduction of The Woman (who must accept without question all his demands) to nothing more than an object to his whims I found unsettling and often distasteful. Yes, I know that was probably the intention, but that was my emotional response to it. There were other elements introduced to this story line such as The Man’s addiction to pornography on his laptop computer (seen only briefly and in no detail on the film screen above). The possible de-sensitisation to human contact and emotions that this addiction may be causing him is for some reason never explored.
Part of my problem with this work is the stage set design. From my seat on the right hand side of the theatre, most of that area of the set was blocked of from view by a screen as the cameras moved in to film our couple. The bed (a central part to this story) was not in my sight lines for much of this performance. Likewise, the hotel corridor of the set would have been equally out of the sight lines of people on the left hand side of the theatre. Although we could see much of what was happening on the black and white cinema screen above us filming what was below, that immersion in both worlds was lost.
Cinema wise, this one just was not working for me either as a naked couple on a bed is hardly anything new, and French “art cinema” has been doing it for decades. Oddly enough, the cinematic part of the film was introducing far more interesting elements to our story than what was happening on stage, and they were not explored in any meaningful way. The very obvious use of an on-stage team to handle the filming and other set requirements here, for me was very intrusive into the stage performance (which after all was only two people) and made any connection to the “intimacy” of our couple very difficult.
From the beginning The Man tells the Woman that this is all about him, and I actually found the woman’s story far more interesting and wanted to know her reasons for agreeing to such a deal with The Man. Also a nice little touch that her hair to The Man smells of "a scent of heliotrope and citron".
Review by Tom King
La maladie de la Mort