The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Helen Catt

at 12:08 on 25th Aug 2011

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A show in which the actors are not merely actors, but also stagehands and props, playing anything from the wall of a barn to a blueberry bush sounds improbable, but due to the incredible choreography of Simone Coxall, it is never anything less than entirely natural and believable. The flexibility of the actors – many of whom are playing more than one part, as well as making up the chorus of peasants, farmyard animals, dead people and children - results in a remarkably energetic performance, in which the actors clamber over each other as nimbly as the goats they portray.

The only downside to this fiercely energetic approach was that it was occasionally difficult to know who the actors were playing at any one time. However, if you're willing to put up with these moments of confusion, the experience is very rewarding.

The play follows Lucie Cabrol (played at different times by Bethany Muir, Claudia Barba and Carla Langley) through her various incarnations: as a child and young woman in a ruthlessly unsentimental hamlet in the deep countryside of France; as a smuggler, cast out from her home and as a ghost after her death. It is a strange and fantastic world that we are drawn into where “the dead surround the living, and the living form the core of the dead”, but it is a world founded on hope, despite the injustice of the world. Although this sounds slightly saccharine, the performance is presented well in a harshly unromantic way. The world is cruel, and so are the people in it, but Lucie Cabrol is never a victim, unlike the apparently more pragmatic Jean (Eugene Malone). As the most constant character in the play, Malone gave the performance stability, and his poignant narration lent depth to the plot.

The best part of this performance, however, besides the exceptional choreography, was the score, composed and arranged by Graeme Du Fresne. The programme calls the music “haunting”, and there really is no other word for the arrangement of the folkish music that runs through the play. It is this that gives the play its real depth of feeling, and is highly evocative of a world where poverty is the norm, and a child is whipped for throwing a bucket of milk in anger, because “milk is not water”.

In short, this was an impressive piece of theatre, where plot and character, both very well-executed, take a back-seat compared to the sheer delight of being transported to this harsh, slightly surreal world of the French countryside.

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Dominic Sowa

at 15:22 on 25th Aug 2011

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It is very difficult to actually define what genre The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol fits into. I have been describing it as Les Misérables meets Atonement with an element of light gothic spirituality about it. Performed by the Italia Conti BA Acting Ensemble and adapted from a story by John Berger, the play is a sometimes funny, often poignant and always moving piece.

The piece mixes interesting, though sometimes chaotic looking and slightly precarious, physical theatre with narration to tell the story of the protagonist Lucie Cabrol and her three increasingly strange yet compelling lives. Played by three actresses in her three lives, the play follows the wild and uncontrollable or predictable protagonist as she is ostracised by her family, her old age as a smuggler and her afterlife where she finds some semblance of never before experienced hope for herself and mankind.

Bethany Muir is the most enthralling of the Lucies. Playing her as the young woman, mocked and shunned by the village in which she lives, she perfectly evokes the tender and moving resilience the character shows to her loveless situation. Her petulant yet deeply emotional and subtly composed performance is enchanting. Claudia Barba as the second older incarnation of Lucie draws us into her picaresque but also moving performance , and it is bemusing but refreshing that no attempt to hide her Italian accent was made. Carla Langley’s performance as the final and now dead Lucie left something to be desired; however she did suit well the strangeness of the final piece and gave a nicely ethereal and detached performance that matched the scenes perfectly.

The ensemble worked well as a group, taking the audience from classrooms to battlefields to French fields and the sticky social realism of the Cabrol family farm. The piece, The piece, created by Complicite in 1994, is a great piece of social criticism and shows the unfairness of life through the sad tale of Lucie Cabrol as narrated by the globe trekking Jean played by Eugene Malone. However what is also quite powerful about the piece is how the life of the protagonist encompasses and runs through the great change that occurs in the French, but also western, world. The world of the piece is shocked by the horrors of both wars; the physical theatre piece about the First World War is highly chilling, and the emergence of the consumerism of the post war world. This great change lives in the contextual background of the piece however the beauty of the direction of the piece is that this remains an ever constant presence that weighs down upon the unfolding story of Lucie Cabrol.

This play is not perfect, it’s very long and although the energy remains high, at times the piece flags a bit and audience attention wanders away. However it is a beautiful and tender evocation of the importance of love and affection in our world.

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