This review was originally written for The Public Review.
It is not very often that a play is performed in a studio gallery in Belgravia, and making it even more rare is that this play has only been performed twice before in the English translation by Peter Meyer, the first of which being in the form of a radio play in 1955. It certainly suits that medium since it is a chamber piece between a widowed Marquise and a bachelor Baron, the title of the play referring to the Baron’s hovering in the doorway as they play out their courtship. The Marquise’s initial coldness and the Baron’s uncertainty set up the dialogue which intellectualises and philosophises his advances as the pair engages in debate about the technicalities and intricacies of manners and protocol.
Although the play was written in mid-19th century and concerns the aristocracy, there are a few interesting observations which still very much apply to today’s society. In some ways, the play is not perfect as the Marquise’s resistance and somewhat excessive hostility seem unreasonable but at the same time, this does allow the drama to build. And despite this small complaint, it emerges as a good drama well worth reviving.
The venue is certainly a focal point and the warm weather allows the lovely garden to be utilised fully as the theatre bar. The downside of the intimate performance space means it gets a little warm inside and the sightlines are compromised for some. Nonetheless, the gallery provides the perfect backdrop for the luxury salon in which the play is set. In addition to the venue choice, the play is interspersed with beautiful singing by Ana Maria Rincon with music composed by Laurence Cummings, incorporating the poem by De Musset on which this play is based.
This attention to detail and atmosphere highlights the clear vision the director Martin Parr has for this production. The performance by Katherine Heath as the Marquise is excellent, played with a vindictive front but a quavering vulnerability which at times verges on tears. Christopher Staines exudes the nervy uncertainty yet persistence of his character and is a good contrast with Heath’s portrayal. Importantly, the pair make the couple believable for a play which, at times, over-analyses the situation. This concept of the production itself is a reason to visit; combined with thoughtful dialogue and fine performances, it makes a rare treat of theatre going in Belgravia.
Runs until 22nd September