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A CurtainUp London Review
Peter McKintosh's set for Splendour is dominated by a huge central circular gold chandelier like some sort of vulgar 5 star hotel. The floor is a loud, geometric pattern and there appears to be a border of broken glass. In fact, this is her private home and Micheleine (Sinead Cusack) is waiting for her husband to return so that he can be photographed by Western photo journalist Kathryn (Genevieve O'Reilly).
Zawe Ashton plays the kleptomaniac interpreter Gilma from the rebel held North and Micheleine's humble friend is Genevieve (Michelle Fairley) a natural victim of the First Lady's taunts. How confusing must that have been to have two Genevieves in one four hander play?
After the first scene there is blinding flash, a crashing noise and we are cast back like Groundhog Day with the earlier scene played slightly differently. This happens again and again and starts to be annoying. It's like watching a piece of macrame with different threads being followed at different times making up the whole. The clashing is the breaking of a Venetian vase, which in the opening scene is being swept up but which is also puzzling intact on a shelf to the rear of the set.
Sinead Cusack's Micheleine is most unsympathetic, even as she starts to get more and more anxious about the delayed arrival of her husband. She is openly cruel to her supposed friend Genevieve whose dead husband's symbolic picture hangs in the presidential suite. As the commotion outside starts to impose on the presidential residence and communications, we chip away at the veneer of this woman who supports the precarious regime of her dictator husband. As she realizes her daughter and grandson are in a dangerous part of the city and that her husband may have flown or have been captured, we can see her distress under the politically polished surface of unflappability.
The structure of the play is experimental with each character showing the audience an interior monologue of what they cannot say to each other and the danger that they are in. The performances are fine but Splendour is short on plot. At just an hour 35 minutes without an interval, it felt very inactive and didn't engage me.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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