Separated by the barriers of age, class and race, it is little wonder that the clandestine relationship between a fifteen-year-old peasant girl of French origin (Amy Hollinshead) and a wealthy Chinese man twelve years her senior (Yosuke Kusano), for whom doing nothing is an occupation on account of his father being a property magnate, is described by the former’s older brother (Francesco Ferrari) as “ill-matched”.
A phrase I would extend to the misplaced decision by co-directors Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick (respective Artistic Directors of Scottish Dance Theatre and Stellar Quines) to employ voice-overs for all but one performer: a truly stellar quine in the shape of Susan Vidler as both the matriarch and the Ronseal-inspired The Woman looking back at her illicit affair with the eponymous lover which she likens to “the sea, formless, simply beyond compare”.
A weakness compounded by the fact that Vidler also voices the bulk of the other characters’ dialogue to which her fellow cast members lip-sync in silent wonder. The resultant effect being one of dislocation which together with several stationery sequences and a cumbersome set change after a strained family meal starve the play of pace, passion and (apart from the closing scene during which The Man finally speaks) poignancy.
Which is not to say that the production, like the sea in the aforementioned similie, is “formless”. For the performances by the five-strong cast, which includes Kieran Brown as the younger brother Paulo, are graceful and measured. The contemporary score by Torben Lars Sylvest propels the action from the 1920s setting of Marguerite Duras’ autobiographical novel of the same name (upon which this adaptation is based) to the present day.
And the set design by Leila Kalbassi (transparent drapes shimmering before two black branches from which white buds and flowers tentatively bloom), a fitting metaphor for the couple’s undying love. It’s just a pity that the writhing and reaching which characterises the opening choreography, echoing The Woman’s plea to “let the body alone to seek and find and take what it likes”, dissipates into looking at characters looking at characters looking and longing from afar. Or as Duras put it in her stark prose: “Beauty doesn’t act. It doesn’t look. It is looked at.”