Review by Isabelle Blake-James
Yasmina Reza’s play Life x 3 (or Trois versions de la vie) depicts a very ordinary evening for French couple Sonia and her astrophysicist husband Henri in their bourgeois Parisian apartment. Their son Arnaud refuses to sleep in his bedroom next door and tension builds between the couple as they disagree on whether he should be allowed to eat after bedtime. The atmosphere then becomes electric when another couple, Hubert and Inès, arrive for supper, seemingly one day early, leaving Henri and Sonia totally unprepared having got the date wrong. An evening of embarrassing chit-chat and chocolate fingers then descends into acrimony as Hubert purposefully reveals to Henri that a scientific paper on his very topic is about
to be published by someone else – a potentially devastating revelation for the ambitious scientist. Hubert seems to delight in this misfortune, while Inès drinks far too much Sancerre and Sonia is not quite who we thought she was.
This ‘huis clos’ is played out three times in the play but each time with a clever change of word or phrase here and there or alternative mood swings for each of the four characters. Ultimately, the interactions between the two couples end up in three very different places and we find ourselves liking or disliking each one of them in turn. Like Chopin’s variations, Yasmina Reza orchestrates a subtle yet brilliant play on the variations of human nature. Very clever, very incisive, very French.
I won’t pretend that I wasn’t rather curious at how the Dulwich Players would be able to portray the pompous absurdity of Parisian snobbery in the middle of Dulwich or indeed how a very English audience would react to such a Gallic portrayal of French life.* However, I was captivated from the first scene and within a few minutes of Sonia refusing to give in to her son’s demand for food, I turned to my husband and with a cheeky smile whispered “Welcome to France!”
Alex Curran gave an impressively accomplished performance as Sonia and looked uncannily French as she walked the walk and talked the talk, bringing a real intensity and edginess to the character. I personally loved the black and white dress she hastily puts on at the arrival of Hubert and Inès – the fact that it showed her negligée underneath was just so perfect. James Hammond was also very convincing as the tortured astrophysicist Henri and his natural sense of timing brought the interactions to life, although from a costume point of view I am not certain he would have received his mentor with no shoes on – maybe a bit too South London and not enough Parisian chic? The essential chemistry between Henri and Sonia may have been a little underdeveloped in the first half but they certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves more in the second half as the energy fizzed between them.
Hubert, played by Paul Sykes, was the perfect French bully and he really looked and sounded like he relished his repeated put downs of both Henri and Inès as well as the absurd move on Sonia when nobody was looking. I think Paul was very much in his element… I also thoroughly enjoyed Sheree Clapperton’s portrayal of an increasingly drunken Inès, especially when she walked out at the end of the third scene with her scarf on her face unable to see where she was going; deliberate or not, it was perfect! It is also interesting to note that Yasmina Reza herself chose to play Inès and not Sonia for the premiere of her play in France in 2000.
This was a great choice of play and it was directed by Severine Powell with obvious assurance and a real sense of how the French version might best be transposed for an English audience – the marvellous use of Cheesy Whatsits in place of the French “Apéricubes” will linger long in the memory! The premise of the play may be simple but, as ever, the devil is in the stage management detail, on this occasion looked after by Gill Daly and Emily Lamm: the songs by Piaf and Jacques Brel playing in the background as Sonia plumps up the cushions, the ‘corner’ of toys centre stage and the child’s shoes and boots laid out under the coat stand were all lovely touches. A special mention, too, has to go to Lucinda Lane for a wailing Arnaud…
All in all a very enjoyable Gallic evening – I simply cannot wait for Tartuffe now!
*Just so you know… nobody ever arrives on time for a dinner party in Paris - it is considered rude to do so. And yes, French mothers are unashamedly strict with their children particularly when it comes to food!