The Lover at The Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by French novelist Marguerite Duras adapted for the stage and directed by Fleur Darkin & Jemima Levick in a multi discipline performance that fuses drama, contemporary dance and spoken word together for a unique project.
This production was the one for the start of 2018 that interested me most on my review schedule as it had the potential to be a massive success or a terrible failure; there was never to me going to be any middle ground on this production, and speaking to a few people after the show, reactions were mixed on both poles of the options. For me, it was a huge success fusing almost seamlessly three very divergent disciplines into one cohesive form.
Last year, I reviewed “The Velvet Petal” from Scottish Dance Theatre, so I knew that Fleur Darkin was more than capable of producing something very special with the dance elements of this production. Marguerite Duras (1914 – 1996) as a writer though was different, and I have to admit that this is my first introduction to her work (and there is a lot of it out there – more than 70 novels alone). Although the words here are adapted for stage, it was obvious from the first few minutes of dialogue what a wonderful use of language Marguerite Duras was capable off, and this story of an older woman looking back upon her very young self (15 ½ at the beginning) and her love affair with an older and obviously wealthy man (27) clearly shows a writer with an almost magical ability to bring you into not only a story, but the world and the people in that story. This is a beautiful story not only about a very sensual love affair, but also raising many questions about a person’s earlier self still being somewhere inside them as they grow older. Some readers may disagree with this next statement, but to me, there are elements of this love affair as it is described in spoken word that clearly to me show that this story was from the hand of a woman and not a man. There is something very subtle in the different ways that the very best writers of both sexes at times describe some things, and here the memories of our older woman are often far more concentrated on the tactile rather than the physical elements of her relationship and the emotions of her lover.
Our story is at its core a simple story with only five people involved as the story of The Woman (Susan Vidler) and The Girl/the woman’s younger self (Amy Hollinshead) unfolds as we move back and forth in her memories to her poor upbringing in Saigon with her mother and two brothers. Yosuke Kusano (The Man), Francesco Ferrari (Pierre) and Kieran Brown (Paulo) make up our other cast members.
There is a soundtrack to this production that carefully chooses music with words that fit the story line well, and music sets the scenes for the coming production before we even begin with songs like “Silly Games”.
Amy Hollinshead as The Girl is perfectly cast here and has an almost ethereal quality in her performance as she for the most part dances this role. There is a feeling of watching an elusive but untouchable memory to her performance on stage, and that is nowhere more evident than in her sensual dance/lovers embrace on stage with Yosuke Kusano (The Man). The “Lovers” dance is probably the most difficult performance element to achieve on stage here as it has to be sensual, but not explicit…that is what the words of this story are after all describing. There is a very difficult balance to achieve here because as an audience we need to understand this relationship, but somehow do it without “voyeuristic intentions”, particularly as our young girl is in the story at least only 15 ½ years old. I think they managed to keep on the right side of that very thin line here, but others must of course make their own minds up on this.
Susan Vidler as The Woman looking back into her memories is maybe a little younger than I would have expected for this role (for some reason I have an older woman in mind here), but is excellent and has the skill to use the wonderful words of this story to maximum effect. It is largely due to Susan Vidler’s skill as a narrator that this story is so absorbing.
There is also audio commentary to this production, and at one early stage in the story it did seem that there were a few technical sound issues and some of the commentary was lost; it was quickly fixed though and the visual performance at the time was so strong that little, if anything, was missed in the overall story.
There are times when the fusion of dance and drama worked better than others for me, but for the most, everything was fusing together well, and the minimal stage set actually worked well here. I think a less minimal set would have interfered with the dreamlike quality of The Woman’s memories.
The Lover is set in the long gone world of late 1920s/early 1930s Vietnam, Saigon and The Mekong Delta and the words evoke an almost magical time and place to be alive in. Having just reviewed ”Miss Saigon” a few days earlier, I could not help but feel sadness at what was very soon to happen to Vietnam, its lands and its people.
“The Lover” is an amazing piece of work and for me has the most basic elements that any good story must have - magical words and performers who can bring them to life. If you want to find out more about the theatre and dance companies behind this production, visit their websites at
Review by Tom King