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|A CurtainUp Review
Remembrance of Things Past
By Lizzie Loveridge>
In reality, each reader reads only what is already within himself. The book is a kind of optical instrument which the writer offers to the reader to enable him to discover in himself what he could not have found but for the aid of a book. --- Marcel Proust A la Recherche du Temps Perdu
This stage version of Proust's seven volume partially autobiographical work found its basis in a screen play written by Harold Pinter for film director Joseph Losey which never made it to celluloid. Trying to condense this gargantuan work, set in France before the First World War, into just over three hours, it is inevitable that the result will be an impression, a flavour, a taster, rather than the whole ten course banquet.
And a very pretty impression it is. Its sets, costumes and music remind us of the era of Monet and Renoir -- of waltzes, of holidays by the sea, of elegant French society. The director, Di Trevis, who is responsible for some of the adaptation, has given the National Theatre Ensemble cast a production which will be remembered for its movement and pictures.
The play begins where it also leaves off, with Marcel (Sebastian Harcombe) collapsing in the snow, the starting point for his past life to be recalled. The music for snow turns into a waltz and shadowy figures appear, like old, blurred snapshots. What we get are glimpses, fragments of his life rather like looking at someone else's photograph album - we cannot be sure who everyone is but by the end of the album we have a rough idea. Much of the content is about relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual. The problem with the narrative is that much of it seems to be almost gossip, a picture of a very superficial group of people. This probably stems from having to convey characterisation without Proust's descriptive passages.
The play also show its film roots in the way it switches from scene to scene. It opens with Charles Swann (Duncan Bell) a bright man with a pretty and pretty stupid wife, the untalented but seductive Odette de Crécy (Fritha Goodey). Proust's own romance with Albertine, (Indira Varma) reflects that of Swann, who says in self recrimination, "To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known was for a woman who did not appeal to me, who was not my type." No one in Proust's novel finds a well matched relationship. Baron Charlus (David Rintoul) is exploited for his aristocratic connections by a series of young boys whose artistic and musical talent he promotes. The Verudins' (Janine Duvitski and Jim Hooper) patronage of the arts does not stop them being mocked at in private for being vulgar nouveaux riches.
There are sensitive performances from Duncan Bell as Swann betrayed, and Sebastian Harcombe, slight, dark eyed, ever coughing as the sidelined, asthmatic Marcel Proust. Julie LeGrand doubles as the aloof and charismatic Lesbian Vicomtess de Fiacre and as Marcel's mother who fusses round, mollycoddling her sickly son. Fritha Goodey is delightful as the very pretty little girl who becomes Mme. Swann and is deceitful and spoilt. David Rintoul is in high camp as Charlus, highly mannered, snobbish, well connected but essentially sympathetic as he shows us that he too is a prisoner of his sexual urges.
But the most memorable aspect of this production is the beautiful images -- the music, the dancing, the gorgeous costumes. The set pieces show a society t where the people look lovely but speak unkindly of each other. The lighting is delicate and atmospheric, conveying the fin de siècle prettiness and decadence.
I saw the production in the Cottesloe and feel that it will benefit from the larger stage which Remembrance of Things Past will get when it transfers into the Olivier in February 2001.