The Illusion (Pierre Corneille/Tony Kushner), Southwark Playhouse 3.15 pm 25 August


This was described as an adaptation of Pierre Corneille by Tony Kushner, but I think it was more like ‘by Tony Kushner after Corneille’.

Anyway, accompanied by my cold I climbed to my favourite spot a long way from the stage and by some railings so that I could rest with my eyes closed if it all became too much for me.

What happens in the play is that Pridamant, a rich lawyer, resorts to the cave of Alcandre, a witch, in search of intimations of the fate of his son who he cast out 15 years ago.  So Alcandre shows him scenes from the son’s life as an adventurer, convict, and lover-not-wisely-but-too-well.  These led me to recall that I did know something about Corneille and this kind of blood-thunder-and-bombast was rather what I expected.  In fact, I found quite a few opportunities to rest my eyes and consider whether the water leaking onto wiring at the back of the hall might promise something more exciting.  Also I found I couldn’t always understand what Daisy Hughes as the love interest was saying–the unengaging acting of these episodes might have been deliberate, but I don’t think that was.

I did enjoy the by-play between Alcandre (Melanie Jessop) and Pridamant (James Clyde), where he complained about what he was being shown and if she was particularly well-disposed she would strike the floor with her stick and bring about a change in the action.  Melanie Jessop and (sometimes) Shanaya Rafaat as the love-interest’s serving-maid dominated the stage and riveted the attention in a way the other players didn’t match.  I should add that the production (directed by Sebastian Harcombe) was always perfectly clear and you could always tell who was supposed to be who and what they were meant to be doing.

So at the end…we got some reflections on theatre and illusion.  And I was quite interested; not so much by questions of illusion and love but more in how much this text differed from that of Corneille.  The answer seems to be really quite a lot:  a sex change for Alcandre, prose instead of verse, and essentially a new character in Alcandre’s Calibanic servant to start off with.  Also Alcandre’s monologue about love–an illusion–being more real than earth and iron, which I took to be the centrepiece of the play, seems to be original with Kushner.  I think what he’s done is to try to produce something actable, pleasant and interesting and rather lost Corneille’s attempt to display complicated literary-philosophical arguments by instantiating them in a play.

I think.

The programme cost £ 2 for 4 pages, and no adverts for private schools.  At least someone (Pridamant) had been in The Bill, so those standards were maintained.

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