Saturday, August 6, 2011

Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza

Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza.  Canberra Repertory directed by Garry Fry.  Theatre 3, August 5-20.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 6

It was interesting to find, even in a translation by noted British writer Christopher Hampton, how very French this play is.  Though at first blush it seems naturalistic, before long it becomes reminiscent of French-style absurdism in the manner of Eugene Ionesco.  It’s a comedy of the human condition, epitomised by drunk Ines in Act 2 insisting to her astronomer husband, “We are not insignificant!”

Reza’s writing is demanding.  The same scene is played three times: a couple arrive for dinner with another couple, a day early.  Their hosts are completely unprepared.  Each replay is not an exact replica, because each of the four characters start from and end up at different points in trajectories which their personalities could have followed.

Scene 1 and Scene 2 end in emotional disaster.  In Scene 3 the characters make valiant attempts to be more civilised and reach what, at least superficially, seems an OK compromise.  After Scene 1, a psychologist friend was ready to be called in for marriage counselling.  By the end of the play, she thought she wouldn’t be needed.

For the actors, Peter Holland (Henri, whose academic career makes demands he is afraid he cannot meet), Megs Skillicorn (Henri’s wife Sonia, who has a law degree but works for a finance company), Sam Hanna-Morrow (Hubert, a successful academic who delights in putting Henri down while flirting with Sonia) and Debbie Newboult (Hubert’s wife Ines, faced with a husband she depends on for his social status) and for the director there is a great deal of fine detail to be worked through as each character is interpreted surprisingly differently in each appearance.

In the program notes, we are reminded that Garry Fry developed Replay Theatre in educational settings, in which “Actors explore themes with short semi-improvised plays derived from interaction with a target group; eg, homeless young people.  During replay of scenes, audiences are invited to change the action according to how they think these life situations could be improved.” 

It seems to me that Fry’s highly successful community work over many years has provided him with the skill in Reza’s version of Replay to direct his cast to seek the nuances of characterisation needed here, and each actor has succeeded well. 

I was particularly impressed by Debbie Newboult’s work: she added an extra dimension in her strong stage presence.

Life x 3 is very appropriate for a Canberra audience.  Academics audibly cringed at times when they were not laughing in recognition of their experiences, while couples who have tried to bring up children were equally amused in a squirmy sort of way, as Henri and Sonia’s 6 year old (Michael Spong’s voice off-stage) made demand after demand when he should have been asleep. 

The play, and this production of it, is both enjoyable and worthwhile.