La Maladie de la Mort

It is said that Marguerite Duras drank six litres of wine a day while writing La Maladie de la Mort. This might account for the extremely jaundiced view on male/female interaction portrayed in this work.

An obvious inspiration for the 21st century’s Christian Grey, the man in this piece is incapable of love, and seeks to find the experience by hiring a woman over several weeks to study, to dominate and to use.

In this adaptation by Katie Mitchell and Alice Birch, the bleakness of the story is shown as a film set projected on to screen in black and white, distancing and at the same time intrusively close. A team of technicians scuttle around on stage, while a narrative in French with subtitles is intoned. Interspersed with live shots are shots of the sea, and of the woman as a young girl, innocent until trauma touches her life.

The Man never leaves the room. His only other life is to watch pornography. The Woman is seen coming and going. She has another life, another persona. To her this is merely a financial arrangement, to him this is an attempt at emotional breakthrough wrapped in his power game of dominance.

It’s a bleak, unforgiving, nasty little piece. The exploited woman has insights into her own situation, and more importantly can read the man’s disturbed behaviour for what it is. Onstage the woman sleeps a lot while the man broodingly studies her. Her torpor pervades all. There is no let up from the remorseless negativity of the situation.

Real life filming of onstage action seems a theme this year. Last time I saw it , it was joyful. This time it’s colourless, uncomfortable to watch, and nihilistic. There is no resolution. The Man drifts on to his inevitable fate, and the Woman goes back to her life, job done, cash collected.

Laetitia Dosch and Nick Fletcher give strong, unflinching performances, but ennui and alienation leave one keen to escape.

A performance by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in French with English subtitles

Lyceum Theatre until August 19th

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