Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 10 May, 2011

Life is a voyage. At an average speaking speed, that sentence takes about 1.3 seconds to utter. This means that Jon Fosse’s play is overlong by some 67 minutes and 58.7 seconds. Nothing about the play, or Patrice Chereau’s production (his first ever in English), is downright awful. It’s just that the whole enterprise is massively redundant, a waste of the notable talents of all concerned: Chereau, Fosse, adapter Simon Stephens, actors Tom Brooke and Jack Laskey.

A pool of shallow water occupies most of the Young Vic’s stage. Laskey carries the apparently unconscious Brooke around its edge and tends solicitously to him.(Brooke’s character is called The One, Laskey’s The Other… oh, well.) They talk of an unidentified act that The One has committed, but matters veer into a discussion of his general state of mind. This is frankly adolescent twaddle, as if The One were a teenager who had just heard about depression and was embracing the idea keenly, making remarks like “I can’t bear the noise of everything” and describing grey as “nice and ugly”. (I write this as a monopolar depressive myself.)

These two have apparently been sailing together. Suddenly, a large square platform rises out of the pool and they scramble on to it; now we are shown the principal metaphor at work, at length and in detail. The two eat and drink together, come in to shore and cast off again, then a storm rises and we approach what passes for a climax. At various points we see company, solitude, loss and depression (I have remarked before that those long Norwegian winter evenings do little for Fosse’s joie de vivre). The analogy is fully worked out; it’s simply not at all interesting or original.

Chereau’s staging and Richard Peduzzi’s design add a couple of unintentional aspects of metaphor. When the centrally pivoted raft-platform first rose, I thought that it was canting freely at various angles according to the actors’ positions and movements; alas, it soon became apparent that the whole affair was controlled by an external force, which is not, I think, part of Fosse’s intended metaphysic. And when it sinks back into the water, streams of bubbles rise at its corners for some minutes afterwards, like a particularly severe attack of bathtime flatulence. I doubt that this is a deliberate design feature either, but it certainly lends a further dimension of meaning to the title.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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