27 June 2016
A woman, murdered. Dismembered body parts found on goods trains around France – all except the head. The head is never found. Each train passed under one common point: a viaduct near a railway station, in the small town of Villon. Police soon identify the killer as housewife Claire Lannes. The victim? Her deaf-mute cousin, Marie-Therese, who had shared a seemingly uneventful life with Claire and her husband Pierre for two decades.
So much is revealed in the brief prologue to Marguerite Duras’ L’Amante Anglaise (The English Lover), based on a true crime from 1949. The natural question is: Why did she do it? Every limpid revelation in Duras’ play feeds the hydra-headed mystery.
It is structured as two interviews – one with Pierre, one with Claire in prison – conducted by nameless interrogators. The formal directness and simplicity of the dialogue creates a precise surface, floating above unfathomable depths.
No Australian director is as attuned to Duras’ work as Laurence Strangio. His production is stripped back to two superb performances, which flesh out the enigma, and disturbing beauty, of this story through understated characterisation and propulsive rhythm.
Rob Meldrum’s Pierre emerges from within a cell of aloofness that can be almost comical. His supreme disinterest in his wife seems at once the callous reflex of a narcissistic, emotionally stunted man, and an understandable defence to Claire’s incipient insanity.
Jillian Murray won a Green Room Award for this performance, and rightly so. Initially rational and lacking remorse, but so mousy as to invite disbelief she could have committed such a grisly crime, Murray’s Claire gradually reveals a woman imprisoned long before the murder: by the weight of nostalgia for a youthful love affair, by her loveless marriage, by the insistent drip of her own thoughts and finally, by the flood of madness.
L’Amante Anglaise is brilliant theatre, pure and simple. Don’t miss it.