Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical novel The Lover, published in 1984, is about an unnamed teenage girl who embarks on a relationship with a man twelve years her senior in 1930s Vietnam. From one angle, it’s about finding beautiful things in places you don’t expect them. From another, it’s about the dynamic between two very different people, and how it might be different from what you might anticipate. If you believe David Grieg in his programme note, The Lover might have one or two things to tell you about love.
But The Lover, the stage play, here adapted and directed by Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick as a combination of dance and traditional play, seems more than anything else to pull its punches. Nothing is really lingered upon for long enough to, in an emotional sense, vibrate your ribcage. There are the beginnings of discussions of silence and complicity in circumstances that might be manipulative. There’s an inkling – through dance more than through dialogue – that something might be off-kilter between the Girl (Amy Hollinshead) and her quietly menacing older brother (Francesco Ferrari). Susan Vidler plays the female narrator, and also her mother – there’s something to be said about that, if only someone were to go far enough to say it. Even the most intimate scenes between the Girl and the Man, neither named, are either cut short with music quickly faded, or overlaid with other things happening onstage. The Lover never spins its ideas out too far, never seems to dive deep. The Lover is lots of things, but it never seems to be any of them very much, and for a play about two characters taking a huge risk on each other, there’s little risk to be had.
Which is frustrating, because the ideas are good ones, and the cast is thoughtful and expressive. Leila Kalbassi’s set is beautiful in its simplicity, and Emma Jones’s lighting design adds warmth and intimacy. Both seem to belong to a completely different play to the music, which features, at various points, beatboxing and a ukulele. It’s a bold choice, but seems to have been airlifted in from another production entirely. On the other hand – speaking of bold, sound-design-related choices – much of the dialogue is prerecorded in a female voice. In a story with subject matter like this, the point is clear. It’s a great touch. More of that, please.
Ultimately The Lover seems unsure of what it wants to say, or how it feels about saying it. It’s pretty, it’s well-executed, it has plenty of points it might make. If only it committed to making some of them.
Photos courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic.
The Lover runs in The Lyceum, Edinburgh until 3rd February.