Greater Londonposted/updated: 09 Sep 2011 -
Life x 3
Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton
performance date: 09 Oct 2010
venue: Putney Arts Theatre, Putney
reviewer/s: Paul Johnson (Sardines Review)
Putney Arts Theatre’s 45-seat studio space was probably the perfect place to perform Yasmina Reza’s play-in-triplicate, ‘Life X 3’ ...and PTC was probably the perfect theatre society to produce it. I’m sure that Director, Stuart Watson, could have cast both of ‘Life’s’ couples ten times over from a membership rich in talented twenty and thirty-somethings. A nice situation to be in and one that many a London society would be more than a little envious of (the only respite being that PTC does oddly have a hell of a job when half a dozen fifty to sixty-year-olds are required). Presented with such a vast choice it was not surprising to see Watson electing to cast slightly towards the younger side of the line.
In brief, ‘Life x 3’ looks at three subtly alternate versions of a single evening between two couples. Parisian hosts ‘Henri’ (Jim Mannering) and ‘Sonia’ (Anna Marx) are having a stressful time getting their son, ‘Arnaud’ to go to sleep. However, the six-year-old is having none of it and is employing every tactic in the book to prolong his evening; we’ve all been there. The astrophysicist – who is already fretting about the two-year’s research he’s trying to publish – and his busy lawyer wife are working their way towards a row over a Cadburys Chocolate Finger and a slice of apple when the doorbell goes. ‘Inès’ (Louisa Pead) and ‘Hubert’ (Duncan Sanders) have arrived a day early for a dinner party! Sonia is in her pyjamas and the only food in the house is the aforementioned Chocolate Fingers and some Cheesy Wotsits. What’s more, Inès has just laddered her tights and Hubert has not got the best of news for Henri regarding publishing and promotion.
Just as with her acclaimed 1990s worldwide hit “Art” Reza’s witty and naturalistic dialogue of ‘Life x 3’ (translated by Christopher Hampton) irresistibly draws its audience into the fairly normal inter-personal relationships of a group of friends in a tantalising and highly entertaining way.
The piece also provides a great opportunity for four strong actors to study and enjoy inhabiting and varying their respective characters through three nearly identical scenes. It’s as if Reza couldn’t settle on how she wanted to set her play up... and then had something of a ‘brainwave’ - why not leave all her ideas on the page!
The first scene cleverly locks the audience into understanding the play’s set of characters. This enables the second scene to provide the most comedic moments of the evening as subtle changes in moods – such as Henri and Sonia being much more tolerant with each other during young Arnaud’s going-to-bed routine – shift the audience’s perception of what they are watching.
Each actor in Watson’s quartet was up to the task, with all four enjoying various moments when their own character became the focus of attention. Jim Mannering and Anna Marx underplayed the opening to the first two scenes beautifully and employed excellent timing in the disappearing to and reappearing from Arnaud’s bedroom. In contrast, Duncan Sanders and Louisa Pead equally enabled the audience to perceive that here was a longer-lasting relationship struggling to stay afloat.
When together (munching those Chocolate Fingers and Cheesy Wotsits) it was a joy to see both couples interact – with all four actors wonderfully in control of their little tell-tale gestures and characterisations. Louisa Pead’s brilliant second-scene performance as Inès slowly becomes more and more drunk was as good as it gets but, in truth, all four separately defined performances were excellent.
The only questionable part of Reza’s parallel hat-trick is the purpose of the third scene. After the impact of the first change in circumstances it was slightly puzzling why the final was written. Although the two couples once again present a slightly altered situation, the novelty of a new scenario is pretty short-lived which only succeeds in leaving something of a frustrating ending.
Interestingly the final scene also contains a very odd moment when Henri’s mood turns from refreshing optimism to quiet depression over the decision whether to put some music on or not. Something I mention after a subsequent discussion with a different director and cast of this same show also caused much scratching of heads.
Lastly, Richard Evans’ set and lighting design deserves special mention. The minimalistic confines of the studio space actually complemented the scenario of a just sofa, two chairs and a coffee table, with the furniture suitably modern and stylish. Huw Statton’s fitting cries of the unseen ‘Arnaud’ was also perfectly balanced as part of Barney Hart Dyke’s sound design.