Love Already (Workshop Prod. of India Song by Marguerite Duras) Review

Commissioned by the National Theatre in the 1970’s Marguerite Duras’ play India Song has never yet been performed in England. Love Already director Ben Webb proposes that the main reason is the “formal challenges of staging” the play. In this workshop performance at the Ovalhouse Theatre the actors, designers and directors are “exploring” these elements of production, to great effect.

Central to the premise of the play is the writer’s wish that there is no live sound on the stage, with the exception of two occasions when sobs cut through the night – the liveness puncturing the soundscape. Properly executed this has an extraordinary effect because it necessitates recorded sound. What results is the startling intimacy of a radio play that whispers in your brain at the same time as you see the unfolding action on stage.

Director Ben Webb is clearly passionate about this project. In the Q&A discussion after the performance he enthuses that the play “teaches you how to watch it, or to listen to it.” So much thought and production work has gone into this workshop production, it really shouldn’t be surprising how impressive it is.

Adam P McCready provides this essential sound design. What he delivers is an intricate and relentless collage of voices and sounds that builds a world around you. It is deceptively simple and incredibly effective layered soundscape. There is transient quality to the play, as if Duras might be trying to write memory and the sound design really works and plays with this. In the feedback session one audience member described the state she entered as a trance; dreamlike in how she became absorbed into the rhythms of the play.

The space was discussed in the Q&A in terms of the limitations on the directing and the cast, but what they lost in room, increased the intimacy. Although perhaps the edges of the space could not entirely blur into a liminal ‘other’ space, the fact that it was short and wide worked well compared to a long and thin space where the walls encroach on either side. It is also well lit so whilst the production team might be concerned about the exits most of the audience are appropriately captivated. Tom Cooper’s lighting is very evocative and dramatic with sharp shadows lighting the characters. A particularly lovely motif is the fan spinning in a yellow light that visually supported the soundscape and is instrumental in building dramatic tension and giving a sense of the unbearable heat before the rain. With considerable dramaturgical skill the lighting is woven into the layers of the work so it is integral to the performance. 

It is to all the actors’ credit that you don’t ever dissociate them from the voices. Emma Pallant as Anne-Marie Stretter is mesmerising. Watching her move, interact and silently ‘be’ in the space it was easy to imagine a woman such as Anne-Marie Stretter evolving into what is left onstage. A shell of sorts, but somehow as entrancing as ever.

Orbiting around her are three men. Her established lover Michael Richardson – played Chris Bone – seems content to love her as she is. He cradles her in the rain and shows tremendous tenderness even though he must know she cannot return what he seeks. Jonathan McGuinness as the Vice-Consul gives a tremendously understated performance, whether weeping over her bicycle or shouting her name through the streets of Calcutta he delivers his love and understanding with great precision. He is the only one who truly understands her but he is unable to act on that understanding. William Wheeler plays the Young Attaché who is in many ways our introduction to Anne-Marie Stretter because within one word – love already – his life is inexorably changed. He offered a tantalising introduction to the world as well as maintaining a delicate observational balance. He is the only one certain to be in Anne-Marie Stretter’s future, but his presence is conditional, and he knows this.

This workshop production is part of the Ovalhouse FiRST BiTE and involved a really great discussion afterwards. The program is really important as it provides a space for theatre makers to explore their work and craft in a supported environment. I don’t say this lightly, but seriously, Love Already was the most interesting, innovative and dynamic piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. Look out for a full scale production of it, it’s one to watch (and listen)!