TamTam Books News

Wednesday, February 04, 2004:

This is from the Telegraph - and it's a review about a play based on Boris Vian. Wow!

Dominic Cavendish reviews I'm a Fool to Want You at the Battersea Arts Centre and In Flame at the Jermyn Steret Theatre, SW1

After the surprise disappointment of Playing the Victim last year, it's a relief to find Told by an Idiot, one of our quirkiest and, on good days, most inventive theatre companies back on arresting form.
Film fatale: Stephen Harper and Hayley Carmichael in I'm a Fool to Want You

Where, last time round, their distinctive brand of playfulness felt like one layer of whimsy too many, perched uncomfortably atop an infuriatingly lightweight script by the Presnyakov Brothers, here the devising process has been kept in-house. With fewer cooks, the result is a richer, far more organic concoction.

Fruity with it, though. I'm a Fool to Want You takes its inspiration from the arty life and times of Boris Vian (1920-59), a bohemian Renaissance man whose sparky creative enthusiasms brightened post-war Paris. As well as dashing off novels, short stories, poems and articles by the dozen, he was a jazz fiend who crooned and trumpeted in Left Bank bars and worshipped at the feet of American legends such as Miles Davis and Dizzie Gillespie.

For his starting-point, director Paul Hunter has seized on the astounding and absurd fact that Vian died of a heart attack as a result of watching the film adaptation of his 1946 bestseller I Spit on Your Graves. The book had been written for a bet, in a fortnight, so quite why Vian took such exceptional umbrage is unclear, but the celluloid travesty proved the death of him.

That moment of fatal, reeling disgust dominates this strange, dream-like piece. The main action begins with Stephen Harper's Boris being warned off seeing the film by Hayley Carmichael's deadpan usherette. The faintly ridiculous collapse that ensues, with Harper clutching histronically at his chest, triggers a welter of fractured scenelets in which both actors loosely inhabit different roles.

We get a mock-serious re-enactment of the film, a thriller involving a racist murder subsequently avenged by the victim's brother, who's black but looks white. This in turn mirrors the relationship between Boris and his second wife, Ursula Gruber, who are both white, but love all things black; so much so that here they even give birth to a black baby.

You could easily argue that, in shedding the conventional structures of a biodrama in pursuit of an oblique, jazz-like reverie, the Idiots needlessly pass up the chance to fill us in on Vian's crowded life.

I wish the play was longer and more expansive, but the irreverence and ephemerality felt true to his jeu d'esprit. There are a host of beguiling touches as the pair - accompanied by pianist Zoe Rahman and trumpeter Mark Crown - leap around a set dominated by a wooden wall from which cafe chairs ingeniously protrude.

The surrealism of Vian's vision is exquisitely matched by moments when the two crazily jive together, lying side by side on the floor, or grapple with each other while clambering all over the wall, so that, like magical figures from a Chagall painting, they appear at times to float up and away.

At the Jermyn Street theatre, an enterprising fringe company under the direction of Andrew Hall has revived Charlotte Jones's 1999 breakthrough hit In Flame. Curiously, despite the Stoppardian ambition of the piece, which shuttles between contemporary London and early-20th-century Yorkshire, it thrives on a stage no bigger than a bus shelter.

The charge that Jones's writing, fresh and funny as it is, is also too fey and fanciful is not entirely rebutted here, but what emerges forcefully is her perceptive intuition that, though worlds apart, the women of both times face similar dilemmas and difficulties.

The cast handle the play's intricate scheme with deft ease. Claire Wyatt above all blazes with assurance as the simple-witted, belittled Clara and her latterday equivalent, stressed-out singleton Clootie.

It's the perfect appetiser ahead of Jones's new play, The Dark, which comes to the Donmar next month.
* 'I'm a Fool to Want You' tickets: 020 7223 2223.

* 'In Flame' tickets: 020 7287 2875

Tosh // 12:21 AM

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