Lamante anglaise fortyfivedwonstairs Melbourne

‘L’Amante Anglais – The English Lover’ at fortyfivedownstairs

Did you ever think you’d sympathise with a murderess?

A breathtaking 100 minutes of tragic human drama is laid bare in Laurence Strangio’s reprisal of his popular adaptation of romantic French novelist Marguerite Duras’ 1967 novella, L’Amante Anglais. This lauded production sells out each time it shows and is an esteemed work of cool elegance and chilling emotional depth.

Based on a 1949 true crime, you feel like you are in a Hitchcock film such as Rear Window, Dial M For Murder or Psycho. Overhear private confessions and witness the innocence of human vulnerability.

Lamante anglaise fortyfivedwonstairs Melbourne

Two characters go over the grisly facts of a murder of a ‘deaf and dumb’ woman (a cousin of the protagonist) whose body parts are found on various train routes in France, barr her head. One town is linked to all journeys and there the police sniff out their defendant. She is the beautiful, yet disturbed, 35-year-old Claire Lannes. We, like jury members, watch as they casually engage, and the dark side of human frailty is unearthed. You feel the tension and heat in the stifled air. No props are necessary when you have human passions as central drama.

With actors as superlatively-skilled as Jillian Murray — who won the 2015 Green Room Award for this role — and liquid-voiced Rob Meldrum, it is easy to lose sense of time. The two characters take us back into the house as scene-of-the-crime. The back stories of the entwined triangle of husband, wife, and her special-needs cousin emerge. Watching these actors take us into their lives is meditative.

Lamante anglaise fortyfivedwonstairs Melbourne

The husband’s dispassionate descriptions of his womanising and his disconnect with his wife are coolly conveyed with such skill, it’s worth the price just to see each of these actors peel the layers back. Part II sees Meldrum as interested interviewer who ‘asks the right questions’.

We witness Murray reveal the sad past experiences which led to her loss of faith in God, and love. She shows us hysteria, panic, borderline insanity — and cool reasoning. The housewife speaks of the 20 years she has lived a virtual prisoner in her routine ‘marriage’, unseen and unloved by her spouse.

Her only delight, her salvation, is her garden, where she lives freely, alongside her favourite plant, english mint, La menthe Anglaise. Pronounced identically, in her written papers, this is recorded as L’Amante Anglais — ‘The English Lover’. Love, and its concomitant betrayals and deceptions, show small deaths of another kind, possibly far greater than any mortal crime.

This production is masterful; Duras’ story, a marvel of complex humanity.  It challenges our conceptions of disability, partnership, and the private and public personas we project. You may be surprised to see where your sympathies lie. A must-see for lovers of a thrilling plot and high-calibre acting sans pareil. 

– Sarah
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.

L’Amante Anglais runs 7-19 February at fortyfivedownstairs, 7:30 pm Tuesday – Saturday, 5pm Sunday, (100 minutes, no interval). Book tickets now.
The venue is wheelchair accessible on request.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were the guests of fortyfivedownstairs.
Image credit: Oscar Strangio.