james debate
james debate

Monday 6 April 2009

Directed by Michael Grandage
Written by Yukio Mishima
Starring Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike
Production company The Donmar
Theatre The Wyndham

My regular readers, and particularly those of you who are seasoned theatre patrons, will remember my previous review for the first production in the Donmar season at the Wyndham, Ivanov, starring Kenneth Branagh. In case you missed it, it was an absolutely wonderful production of a play by one of the finest ever playwrights, Anton Chekhov and achieved a maximum 5 star rating from me. This was followed by the equally mesmerizing production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, starring Derek Jacobi.

And indeed the latest Donmar production at the Wyndham, Madame de Sade starring the legendary Judi Dench, looked very much like being another win for the in-form director Michael Grandage.

donmar madame de sade judi dench

Unfortunately all good runs come to an end, and in this case it has done so in a spectacularly painful fashion.

The production starts off in a decent fashion, a beautiful set design of tarnished silver, a mildly humorous scene between a slut and a religious fanatic about the Maquis de Sade's sexual exploits, but then it all goes down hill from there.

It's hard to tell if the play is this badly written, or just a poor translation by Donald Keene, but nothing comes off fluently, everything feels laborious and pretentious. The entirety of the second and third acts involve a bunch of self irritatingly simple and centered women sitting around talking about kinky things that happened to them off set, it's a bit like watching the view, except with funny wigs and ridiculous frocks. It gets tedious very quickly, and violates one of the first rules of writing: 'show, don't tell'. Nothing interesting ever happens on set, it's just a medium for the characters on stage to tell us about other things that have happened, I may as well just have stayed home and read the plot synopsis online.

You would expect at the very least Judi Dench's presence to be a saving grace, but sadly it's not. It's a testament to just how tedious and lacking in fluidity the dialogue is that there were several line flubs, including Judi of all people, and besides that she just ends up playing the exact same role she seems to have carved a little niche for in recent years; a tough old girl who's angry a lot. Time to move on and flex your acting chops methinks.

There was one moment of high amusement when the lights started malfunctioning, though at the time it wasn't clear if this was part of the production or not; at two points during the play one of the lights switched off and started rotating and swinging about wildly making a lot of loud noise. The people in the audience were actually fairly worried that it was going to fall down on them.

This unintentional amusement aside, the majority of the play was spent listening to these girls prattle on about existential and philosophical claptrap about why unrestrained decadence is a good thing. They lost me at 'Cathedral of vice', yawn.

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