Quiet, moody, and lyrical, this stage adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ French novel never strays from the sparing minimalism of its source material and creates an interesting commentary on imbalanced dynamics within romances. The Lover is a collaboration between Stellar Quines theatre company and the Scottish Dance Theatre adapted for the stage and directed by Jemima Levick and choreographer Fleur Darkin. Though at times the abstract elements of the performance feel a bit heavy-handed, the difficult subject matter is handled with grace which makes for a moving performance.
The play tells Duras’ semi-autobiographical story, that of an adolescent French girl’s affair with a wealthy Chinese man in French-occupied Vietnam. Susan Vidler stars as ‘The Woman,’ who narrates the story, voices each character, and portrays the protagonist as an adult and the girl’s mother. Set to Vidler’s languid narration, 4 dancers portray the protagonist as a young girl, here two brothers, and her lover. The young girl has a difficult home life, with an apathetic mother and a violent older brother dealing with an opium addiction which brings their family into crippling debt. Her poverty keeps her on the outskirts of higher class French colonial society, yet her whiteness transcends any true links she could have with the Vietnamese locale. The story is one of power imbalances in regards to the lover’s ages, socio-economic statuses, and races.
Although the skill of the production’s dancers is breathtaking, the interpretive dances throughout the play are occasionally odd enough to feel disingenuous. The show opens with the performers slithering across the stage as if to mimic the water that symbolically separates the young girl and her lover throughout the story. I found this odd opening to lack its intended depth, achieving instead an element of comedy that did not fit its dark story. However, there were a few amazing dance scenes that outdid the oddness of the other ones. For example, the sensual love scene between the young girl and her lover is rife with uncomfortable beauty. Amy Hollinshead as The Girl and Yosuke Kusano as The Man have tangible chemistry, and their every move portrays the youth and distinction of their respective characters. The play’s other standout performance comes from Francesco Ferrari as the young girl’s violent and problematic older brother, whose physicality portrays uncomfortable cruelty as he the lackadaisical addict at his most abusive moments.
This is a timely story, as its themes of power imbalances within relationships ring with relevance in our modern society. Levick and Darkin create a haunting sense of conflict between the contrast of the lover’s age and wealth and the deep love the two characters truly seem to feel for each other. It is at times painful to watch the trajectory of the girl’s story, but the depth and feeling brought to Duras’ story come across as truly important and beautifully handled.