Watermill - Life X 3
site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill - Life X 3

29th January to 28th February 2009.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Frontline of the sex war

Case of Sancerre provokes this comedy of bad behaviour at The Watermill

Life X 3, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until February 28

Yasmina Reza has quickly established herself as one of Europe's great writers, not just for her plays and novels but for her role as a biographer in residence to Nicholas Sarkozy, embedded in his staff as he pursued his presidential campaign.

Life X 3 contains many wonders, but do not run away with the idea that she is a euro version of Alan Ayckbourn, going round and round the garden in Montparnasse rather than Ruislip. There is a passing resemblance, but she is much more in the tradition of Molière.

Her fascination is with relationships, certainly, and particularly relations between males, for which she has an uncomfortably canny insight.

Her four characters, plus an unseen six year old, are the crystals in a kaleidoscope. She shakes it three times and at each shake produces a self-replicating, but quite different, parallel universe.

Sonia is the beautiful and alluring Savante, played by Sarah Ball. She is the partner of Henri, (James Wallace), an astrophysicist. Parallel universes are his stock in trade.

He's looking to win the approval of Hubert. This is Christopher Villiers, (familiar to viewers of Emmerdale), a stylish philanderer, very much in the Molière mode. We soon suspect that underneath his smarmy surface he is an abusive partner to Inès, played with consummate skill and beautifully sustained tension by Sara Crowe (of Philadelphia spread fame).

The sixth member of this cast is a case of Sancerre, which the quartet consumes on an empty stomach, with predictable and very funny effect. The tears were, in fact, streaming down my face as they shredded the flimsy fabric of polite conversation and sabre-slashed each other in a tag-match of swapped loyalties. Just like home.

The translator was Christopher Hampton. His work is seamless in that you would not necessarily recognise this as having been written in French. That said, he lets the feel of the original language breathe through the phraseology.

Aideen Malone's lighting is a symmetric array of blue spots casting a merciless glare upon Francis O'Connor's set where, as Proust might say, beauty meets with simplicity.

Life X 3 is on until February 28, and let neither storm nor snowdrift keep you from booking a seat.

PATRICK COGSWELL

From Newbury Theatre.

If only I hadn’t said that... if only I’d done it differently... Our life is sequential and we don’t get the change to rewind and try again, but in Life X 3 Yasmina Reza gives three versions of the same scene involving two couples. Alternative versions have been done before – the programme gives two examples: Sliding Doors and Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, and there’s another Ayckbourn play It Could Be Any One of Us which has three different endings, with three different killers, and the director or stage manager chooses on the night which one the cast will perform.
 
In Life X 3, the repeated scene is quite short, and it is just that; a scene, not a complete play. In Henri and Sonia’s flat they are having a quiet evening. Henri’s colleague Hubert and his wife Inès arrive for dinner; there has been a confusion over the date. Henri and Hubert are astrophysicists; Hubert is more eminent and he has brought news that Henri’s research has been pre-empted by a Mexican team. The three different versions of the events are triggered by changes to the conversations and to the personalities of the four, which cause some subtle and not so subtle differences in the relationships between them.
 
What struck me most was the staginess, the theatricality of the production. The same could be said about Reza’s Art, but here the carefully crafted dialogue seemed stilted at times. This could be due in part to Christopher Hampton’s translation which, particularly in Act 1, was sometimes awkward. I know this is heresy; as a translator of plays, Hampton is second to none, but this time it seemed not to hit the mark.
 
For the actors, it’s a great play as it gives them the opportunity to point up the differences in the characters between the three versions, and they all did this very well. Christopher Villiers, as Hubert, was smoothly superior and thoroughly unlikeable (but highly believable). And in his verbal sparring matches with Henri (James Wallace), we inwardly cheered as Henri got more backbone in each version.
 
Sara Crowe’s alcoholic Inès was the least changing of the characters. This was a well-judged portrayal of a rather neurotic woman, constantly put down by her husband. Sarah Ball’s Sonia was the most enigmatic of the four, and perhaps the most interesting as we were never quite sure what she was thinking.
 
As a study of relationships, Life X 3 is interesting and watchable, but in the end the question remains: what’s the point?

PAUL SHAVE

There are reviews from Reviews Gate ("a clever cast and clear direction driving an energetic and committed production... it isn’t long before the audience begins to think that everyone else is having more fun than them in this somewhat over-neat joke... a play that would like to be Ayckbourn but only has the surface tricks without the deeper complications") and the Oxford Times ("a first-class play... I still have reservations, though, about what exactly it’s driving at").