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A CurtainUp London Review
Bernard was the main playwright of a movement known as "l'école du silence" or the school of silence, a counter idea against the melodramatic and posed play. Martine is the prime play as example of this art of understatement, of naturalism, of feelings keep under the surface but communicated by looks and body language.
It is a story of love, false hope and abandonment as Martine (Hannah Murray) meets the grandson of the local landowner seeking shade under a tree in the height of summer. Julien (Barnaby Sax, who might be getting caddishly typecast as he played Wickham in Pride and Prejudice in the Park last summer) is the soldier returning from Syria, yes Syria in 1920. Julien will be temporarily smitten with Martine and flirt with her but not caring for, or, if we are generous, aware of the feelings he will be engendering in her.
We sophisticates can see tragedy coming kilometres away. On the whole, men don't marry out of their class in 1920, despite their fine words. >He thinks he's in love with the pretty country girl until, when he says "cornucopia", she says "corn you what?" and laughs. When his grandmother (Susan Penhaligon) invites a suitable match Jeanne (Leila Crerar) to stay, he is initially reluctant. But when Jeanne arrives, not only does she know what cornucopia means, she can quote most of the poem he likes. So in an understated way we realise why Julien gravitates towards Jeanne and away from toying with Martine.
Chris Porter plays Alfred, the blustering peasant farmer who wants to marry Martine but who in comparison with the handsome Julien will disappoint her. She rejected Alfred even before she met Julien. So who is culpable here? Martine for ideas above her station or Julien for trifling with an innocent girl's feelings? Or the grandmother Mme Mervan for making no provision for the girl who has loyally looked after her. Even Jeanne likes Martine's company until Julian returns. We can see why the author of The French Lieutenant's Woman was chosen as the translator by the National Theatre in the 1980s.
Cherry Truluck's set is dominated by the apple tree with its stylistically bare branches and ornate trunk. Tim Mascall's lighting conveys the heat of the day.
Hannah Murray gives a very quiet and sympathetic performance as the girl caught in this predicament facing up to disappointment in silence. In a final scene between Julien and Martine, he tries to get her to talk about the happy times they spent together which is very painful for her. This isn't done by him without awareness of cruelty as he says, "Why did I do that? Why did I say that?" Martine is everyone's comfort blanket that gets cast aside when they have other company.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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