La Musica Hits The Wrong Notes

La Musica, Young Vic ★★☆☆☆

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 31 months ago
La Musica Hits The Wrong Notes La Musica, Young Vic 2

An ex-couple openly picking through the wreckage of their failed marriage can be very much like a verbal selfie. Look at us: look at what we were, and are, and will be. Here’s what we did when we were in love and when we weren’t. Such is the premise underlying La Musica at the Young Vic, a two-handed examination in self-obsession.

Anne-Marie (Emily Barclay) and Michel (Sam Troughton) are the ill-fated lovers whose union went kaput around three years ago. After living for months in the same hotel that they now find themselves in, they moved into a house where whatever they felt for each other foundered and died — or has it? In Jess James’s ambitious staging, the audience become intimate spectators at the funeral, autopsy and attempted resurrection of this touching yet toxic relationship.

The play’s origins hark back to a 1965 script by Maguerite Duras which James has updated to the 21st century with all the grace of a one-legged chicken. We engage with this couple’s story in two guises: the first is as talking heads on separate overhead screens while the actors sit above the audience on a mezzanine; the second is in the round with the audience huddled often inches away from the actors.

Looking up at the huge screens soon becomes a literal pain in the neck, while the second part’s attempt to create an immersive atmosphere occasionally leads to one or both of the actors disappearing due to the dodgy sightlines. Evidence of the fiery embers of what was (and, perhaps, still is) their love for each other are obscured first by technology and then by having one or either party hidden from view.

The script itself is clunky and Barbara Bray’s English translation does this production no favours. As the grandson of Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor, the male lead may have been tempted to borrow his ancestor’s TARDIS, travel back to the 1960s, lock up Duras and rewrite this elliptical and existentialist text: while eminently watchable, both actors end up hostage to pretentious lines which owe more to the world-weariness of Sartre than the tragic romance of Shakespeare.

Important issues are explored throughout La Musica — what happens when love is not enough? does true love ever really die? what is “home” and how will we know if we find it? — but there is never the fluency or intensity seen in similar plays like Patrick Marber’s Closer. Much like the imploded marriage at its heart, this play is not lacking in ambition but ultimately does not possess a sufficient connection between the audience and the art.

La Musica continues at the Young Vic until 17 October. Tickets £10-£19.50. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 08 October 2015

Muriel Couzens

And the graceless one legged chicken would have been more entertaining.