A robust audience greeted L’amante Anglaise on Friday night for the opening of its brief season at QUT Gardens Theatre. The play, written by Marguerite Duras and translated from the French by Barbara Bray, is concerned with the murder and dismemberment of a French woman in the 1960s. Subverting the typical whodunnit formula, the audience knows from the start of this story who committed the murder. The play begins with its two actors – Jillian Murray and Rob Meldrum – directly addressing the audience with the facts of the case: Claire Lannes, a 51-year-old woman from rural France, unexpectedly murdered her deaf and mute cousin, Marie-Therese, and scattered parts of her body on various trains passing through her town.
What follows is a detailed exploration of Claire’s psychology and the motives that drove her to kill Marie-Therese, with whom she shared a generally happy relationship. The play consists entirely of two real-time conversations between the actors, who first play Claire’s husband Pierre and his interviewer, followed by Claire herself and her interviewer. Little information is given about the personalities or agendas of the interviewer characters; we are left to wonder whether their orientation is that of police officers, journalists, lawyers or psychologists. The focus of the play rests unambiguously on Pierre and Claire, and the curious image of domestic life that their combined testimony draws. The script shows great complexity in its treatment of Pierre and Claire’s marriage; theirs is a deeply ambivalent relationship, simultaneously existing in states of indifference, sympathy, jealousy and loyalty. Also fascinating is Claire’s psychological portrait. Resisting a simple diagnosis, this character exhibits deep imagination and amicability alongside a seeming lack of empathy and inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. What becomes clear to the viewer is that Claire, who cannot articulate why she murdered her cousin when asked, is guided by a logic impenetrable to others, but deeply sound to herself.
Director Laurence Strangio has taken a sparse and naturalistic approach to the production, offering only the most basic elements of staging and blocking. The responsibility for the play rests squarely on the shoulders of Murray and Meldrum, who rise ably to the occasion. Each one offers a thoughtful, confident and polished performance, communicating volumes through tone and language while remaining essentially immobile on stage. They tackle the cerebral nature of this ambiguous text with ease, and thinking audiences will be compelled by the concepts their performances bring to light.
Critical Stages Touring’s production of L’amante Anglaise is currently on stage in Hobart, with forthcoming performances in Bendigo, Wangaratta, Yea and Nunawading throughout July.