Festival Theatre

La Maladie de la Mort

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Four stars

Neil Cooper

A FILM crew sets up onstage at the beginning of writer Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell’s live cinema adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ late period novella. As the black clad team stand poised beside cameras, two actors, a man and a woman, sit motionless apart on a double bed in a hotel room set-up, awaiting their cue. A narrator played by Irene Jacob sits in a sound booth at the edge of the stage. A big screen hangs above them all, larger than the life below that it projects.

When the action begins, it is with a transaction both physical and financial, as Nick Fletcher’s Man states his case to Laetitia Dosch’s Woman. He wants her to visit this barren seaside hotel every day to do everything he asks so he can learn to feel. As she comes and goes, The Woman swaps woolly hat and trainers for heels and precious little else. Alone, he watches internet porn. Together, he watches her in close-up through his iPhone screen.

Birch and Mitchell’s reading sees life through a lens in a way that at times resembling a Tindersticks video, but its reclaiming of the female gaze casts the audience for this daring co-production between the Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord and numerous European partners as voyeurs. We can see the scars of why these two people are here, but where there are glimpses of her life beyond, for him, there is nothing.

As he stares into his own void desperate to remind himself he’s alive but unable to let go, it is she who walks away to some kind of happiness in a brilliantly played and less elliptical reinvention of Duras that enables the Woman to seize the power in a way that allows her to live beyond being cast in someone else's dirty movie.