YASMINA Reza wrote one of my favourite plays, “Art”, and after its huge success in London’s West End and on Broadway, three other plays by Reza have been translated from the original French by the same British playwright, Christopher Hampton. One of these, Life x 3, is gracing the stage of the Swan Theatre in Yeovil this week.
The French title of the play gives more of a clue to the subject matter than the English one – Trois Versions De La Vie would be more accurately translated as Three Versions of Life, and what happens in the play reminded me of a clever school drama exercise or perhaps one of Ayckbourn’s student plays where different outcomes are played out based on the toss of a coin or the roll of a die. In Life x 3 the simple plot, of a couple arriving for dinner at the home of another couple a day early, is played once to us, allowing the development of feelings and sympathies for all five characters (the fifth being an offstage child, heard, but not seen). We are then confronted with a similar scene, slightly altered, set at the same time, but with different attitudes and emotions from the characters, and a slight development in the plot. Once the plot has come to the same ending as before, the stage is reset and we see the third “version of life” – a third version of all five characters, and our sympathies change again. Throughout all three versions some of the subject matter is about astrophysics, the profession of the two men, and discussions switch from basic childcare to the theory of everything, from the intimate and personal to the huge and philosophical.
Director Robert Graydon has been a member of the Swan for almost 20 years, and his involvement in and off stage has given him a wonderful eye for detail, something that shows well in this tightly-directed production. Difficult physical positioning, which could have looked awkward and unnatural, has clearly been well rehearsed and practised, so that a fight between one of the couples, the drunken state of one character, and assignations across the couples all appear completely natural and spontaneous. The clever choice of French cafe music sets the play firmly in France without the worry of trying silly cod accents, and even the six-year-old Arnaud is played in real time offstage, making him part of the action without the danger of mis-played sound effects.
The great relief of seeing anything by the Swan’s own company is that the production values and acting will be high quality, whatever the material, and whilst this particular Reza play may seem a little like a clever game taken to extreme, the acting is as good as anything you will see on stage in this country. The Swan helps to blur the line between professional and amateur, and the five actors, Mark Payne and Tanya Ogden as hosts Henry and Sonia, with Jess Payne as their son Arnaud, and Patrick Knox and Vivienne Evans as guests Hubert and Inez, are completely believable in their respective roles. This is highlighted in “versions” two and three, when the characters all change in varying ways, including levels of sobriety and anger, taking each of the five actors to different places on the emotional scale.
For a showcase of acting and directing skills, head to Yeovil this week, and be amused and entertained by this quirky tale twice retold.