The Game of Love and Chance. Massingham meets Marivaux!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

game6976047 First of all let’s be clear. As it stands, this production by Odyssey Theatre has very little to do with Marivaux . The characters have the same names but they are essentially types inspired by the commedia dell’arte that one could find in much theatre of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The plot dealing with servants and masters who switch identities is also a theatrical convention that can be found in Moliere, in Marivaux, In Goldoni, in Beaumarchais .

It is true that at each period, the social significance of the switching changes and that is something this adaptation has confused rather badly ..but no matter. Marivaux ‘s theatre is essentially characterized by a certain style of performance (which has nothing to do with this show) and a style of language called Marivaudage (which has even less to do with this show)

This is a pure Massingham creation which is far removed from Marivaux’s  18th century “Préciosité”. We encountered a 17th century version of such “Préciosité” in David Whiteley’s translation/adaptation of Cyrano however a century later, Marivaudage was an ultra-refined form of overly subtle word games, of overextended and supercilious flattery, highly charged metaphors and twirl language that captures the most refined nuances of the human heart in a language that is so subtle, so playful , so suggestive that it is used as a mask that hides what the characters are really trying to say. Marivaudage is highly charged with psychological nuances and unexpected turns that catch the audience off guard.

This is not what Massingham has done so we must forget it. Nor has he tried to give his staging a more refined form of the Commedia performance realted to Marivaux, where facial expressions, subtle corporeal signs show to what extent the mask is no longer necessary since the Commedia types have become much more deeply integrated into the nuanced creatures in Marivaux’s text.

Massingham’s show goes back to the 17th Century origins of Commedia when Molière removed it from the Market place, gave the characters words and had them doing their rowdy, physical obscenities, dribbling and babbling, as the perfectly choreographed masked creatures who play the whole cast of Commedia types. The face disappears..almost…. the body takes over the whole performance, psychology flies out the window and here, we are in a Commedia limbo which tries to bring together the playful parody of the servant classes making fun of their upper crust noble masters who also are represented as commedia characters of a slightly different ilk. And to liven it all up, Massingham throws in a bit of Offenbach’s 19the Century musical theatre, where bits from his famous and very naughty French Can Can, are added to more romantic bits – the Barcarolle  from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann and it all sounds super! He even has the Commedia creatures dancing the Can Can and why not. This is one of those stylistic remixes that is no longer limited by any loyalty to the original play, nor should it be. .

And there are some excellent moments as long as we don’t make the mistake of looking for Marivaux.

The two Servants played by Jody Stevens as Lisette and Evan Dowling as Arlequino (or Hector the Actor! ) were right down on the street doing the most fun filled and sexually suggestive performances you could want. Very faithful to the Commedia spirit. Arlequino was very good as the awkward servant trying to be the aristocrat but Stephens truly excelled through her body language and voice manipulation. Every one of her gestures became a finely tuned feat of physical energy as she shifted from parodies of aristocracy to down and dirty servants turning on the sexual heat as Dowling chases her around the room. She captured all the movements of that part of her face the mask did not cover. Her mouth, her tongue, evens her eyes, to the point where her mask actually seemed to come to life. She was spectacular! She had it all down pat. She reminded me of the former virtuosity of the troop when Laurie Stevens used to whip them all into shape, with their wild and woolly corporeal inventiveness, grunting, groaning and turning obscene gestures into a beautiful dance .

We certainly must thank Alix Sideris for her expert coaching , because her movements were often very recognizable in her pupil’s performance! All the others only partially succeeded. I loved the moments when Dorante and Silvia disguised as their own servants, try to show how indifferent they really are to each other even though both have been smitten with the love bug from the first glimpse . That worked very well indeed. Most of the time, however, the performances lacked the energy of the Commedia and this seemed to be due to the fact that most of the cast needed more corporeal training so that the upper crust form of Commedia could have found its parallel equivalent to the exciting and furious slapstick of the servants. As well, the textual adaptation often seemed repetitive and some of the dialogue could have been cut. A more condensed, less “talky” script would have put more emphasis on the physicality of the show, allowing more complex physical choreography to be put into play. After all, in Marivaux, the discussion is all based on little chef d’oeuvres of language and verbal style that fore grounded nuanced psychological interaction between the characters. BUT, none of that psychological l analysis is left in this adaptation. Don’t forget, this is no longer Marivaux. Thus, they didn’t need to develop their exchanges to that point. What is left is pure action. To add to the physicality of the show, Almut Ellinghaus’ masks were works of art, the colours and forms were beautiful to behold and the strategic commedia half-mask gave the actors all the leeway needed to play with their eyes and their mouths, creating the sense of a living creature under that fantastical form.

Zach Council as brother Mario (masked) had a very good monologue as Sylvia’s a sexually ambiguous brother , a pure creation of Massingham that gave the actor a chance to to his own thing, since he is such a special comic talent. Did it work here? Perhaps. It depends on your mood that night.

The group movements at the beginning and the end , where they all attempt the French Can Can and lots of other lively steps, , were very good indeed. In fact the play needed a lot more movement of that sort.

Snezana Pesic’s costumes were fitting and her set shone and glittered like the perfect site of one of Offenbach’s musical masterpieces. Unknown to most of the people in the audience, it also became the meeting place for several chubby little gophers who kept burroughing under the stage after they ran past the audience and then under the wooden structure propping up the set. And….they were not even in the programme!! That was a shame.

The Game of Love and Chance is an interesting and sometimes very amusing exercise in style where the Style is not yet as clearly defined as it might be and where the actors are not all ready to play the games they are expected to play. Still, a pleasant evening under the stars ….and bring your own chair if you don’t like sitting on the wooden steps.

The Game of Love and Chance continues until August 26, 20h00, in Stratchona Park.

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