Relationships and love are sorely tested and put to the sword in C’est la Vie, the searing world premiere drama from British playwright Stephanie Silver that director Thomas Ian Doyle and the cast put together with only 10 days of rehearsals.
Each of the couples here has hit major roadblocks from which there may be no coming back. The play’s timeline is not linear, rather it jumps around. At interval, you are still perplexed as to how the pieces will fit together, but fortunately they do. Mind you, C’est La Vie has what I would term a false ending that would have made sense as the real conclusion. It comes by way of a poetic monologue from one of the characters when he talks about the intensity of his initial feelings for his true love, only to see life get in the way. That sums up everything that went before it for all six of the performers, hence my remarks about it being an appropriate finishing point.
Maxine (Gabrielle Savrone) and Claire (Katie Ann Stirk) get together at a work function. Claire is an out of work actor and Maxine a barmaid. Maxine is on medication for depression and has tried to take her own life on a number of occasions. Claire is bright and bubbly, but a less than pleasant drunk. The pair doesn’t have enough money to lead the kind of life that takes some of the pressure off a relationship that is already fraught. Louise (Carolyn Dawes) and Matthew (Jakub Duniec) connect on Tinder. She is from Melbourne and he from Brisbane. She readily admits she is not good at long-term relationships and doesn’t understand why he wants to take it slowly. He wants to marry her and she wants to run 1,000 kilometres in the opposite direction. She cheats on him.
Susie (Indiana Tali) and Josh (Andy Aisbett) meet in an empty train carriage when he takes the seat next to hers. Their attraction is immediate and their feelings for one another are incendiary. Next thing you know she is pregnant and they are both ecstatic … until there are problems with the baby and then all hell breaks lose. Love turns to despair and hatred.
The set design by director Doyle may be minimalist, but it is memorable. A series of thin wooden planks is joined together to represent a semi circular bar, upon which are perched 32 glasses – champagne flutes, shot glasses and tumblers – filled with liquid, which are drunk as the piece progresses. The only other prop is a small wooden table positioned in the middle of the stage.
I appreciated the heat of the battle. To say these relationships are complicated is an understatement, but there is more than a small slice of reality in what the playwright is saying. Arguably the production’s most affecting scene involves the interplay between Susie and Josh when she breaks down and verbally and physically unloads on him, her feelings laid bare. Although for most part the exchanges are between couples, a frequently used device is to have other actors appear very near the end of a scene and invade the formers’ space without saying a word. Doyle says it is symbolic of “lives bleeding together”. I saw it as a largely unnecessary distraction that didn’t add anything or go anywhere.
My only other concern related to the nudity. This is a play in which sex and intimacy are frequently referenced. Some of the actors strip down to the all together. Other are partially unclad or remain fully clothed. I admire The Owl and Cat edict when it comes to nakedness, namely it is up to each actor to say “yea” or “nay” depending upon their level of comfort. Nevertheless, I found it a bit odd that some did, some didn’t and some went half way. Perhaps it should be all or nothing?
That aside, C’est La Vie applies a blowtorch to humans’ bonding and provides food for thought. We all want the moon, the sun and the stars, but are these really attainable over time? Realistically, is the best we can hope for moments of joy and delirium, punctuated by lots of hard work, especially when the mind and loins almost inevitable stray or succumb? You be the judge. C’est La Vie is playing at The Owl and Cat Theatre, 34 Swan Street, Richmond until 17th March.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television