I have severe reservations about the title of this show. Fémage à Trois is presumably a witty jeu de mot on the phrase “ménage à trois”. It’s a french title of a play to which the only french connection appears to be that one scene is set in Café Rouge (complete with Eiffel Tower gobo) but actually could be set in any restaurant or wine bar. Translations of “fémage” give “Femage” (without the accent) which is a word I haven’t come across before but which is associated either with women’s refuges or as a fashion label. My conclusion is that it is a bit of a red herring and slightly pretentious: which is a shame in that the script is very down-to- earth.
The play consists of three monologues performed by three females whose only thematic connection is that the three parts – despite having some funny lines – are all very depressing. Realistically depressing, yes, but depressing all the same.
First off is “I Don’t Care” written by Charlotte O’Leary. The piece centres around 16-year- old Aamira, carer for her dementia-wracked, violent father. Cat Van Dort makes an admirable stab at this challenging role and effects a sympathy-garnering characterisation but she is weak vocally meaning that many lines are lost and amusing asides are difficult to grasp. Granted that The Vaults theatre is cavernous and acoustically unforgiving (not helped by unnecessary TV and radio effects) but an actor must reach all of the audience in whatever situation and I would suggest some serious voice work needs to be done so that Van Dort can deal with all the situations she is thrown into. The show is heading to the Edinburgh Fringe where the venue is The Space – an entirely different kettle of fish to The Vaults both in layout and acoustics (different, not necessarily better). Having built up nicely through the monologue, with various authority figures portrayed seamlessly by Van Dort including a running “Doctor” gag, the script could do with a much punchier end rather than fading, as it does, into strange exhortations about solicitors and Aamira’s “inheritance” – a rather meek surrender from a character who has been feisty and positive throughout the negative provocations she faces on a daily basis.
“Closure” is a superb piece scripted by Anna Jordan and performed with empathetic élan by Gemma Harvey as Eve. Witty and sad, knowing and real, Harvey opens up her own personal Pandora’s Box of the spurned female’s twenty-something psycho-babble neuroses and embarrassing notions of chocolate-box romance. Once again, though, there were audibility problems and a company voice coach could well be an investment worth making. Harvey pulls at all our heart-strings, male and female alike, holding a mirror up to our own visualisations of the perfect partner and the search for everlasting adoration-based love. Eve is looking down the barrel of the “it-ain’t-gonna-happen” pistol and one has to say that despite the vocal reservations and some timing issues – some pauses are just too long – Harvey puts heart and soul into the character of Eve and leaves everything out there on the stage.
Finally, in Meryl Griffiths, who plays Sylvia in “And, Breathe”, we have a really classy and accomplished performer whose talent and experience ensures that the audience is going to hear every single word across the full range from sotto voce aside to full blown in-yer- face angry prima donna bawl – though never over-done and always perfectly constrained within the demands of script and character (maybe therein lies the answer to the company voice coach suggestion). “And, Breathe” is an empathetic script by Nick Cox dealing with loss through cancer and, again, dementia. It’s set in a garden with flowers, a tree gobo and a bench (the props storage area at the Space must be bigger than most in Edinburgh if this lot is travelling) and we’re never quite sure if this is a garden of Sylvia’s mind. Once again, though, we had sound effects intrusion with an annoying canned birdsong, on repeat: totally gratuitous. Griffiths is so good that we want to hang on to and savour every word and not be distracted by infuriatingly persistent tweets.
Griffiths’s lithe and economical movement also helped to draw us into the character of this faded star who once made love to the camera and now can’t tell whether flowers have lost their scent or she has lost her senses. There are shades of “Sunset Boulevard” in this very powerfully written and performed monologue. Frightening, depressing yes, but we can’t fail to notice that there’s a bit of us all in there, either now or in the future.
The three monologues are effectively directed by Lou-Lou Mason who is founder, with Gemma Harvey, of Loquitur Theatre, an exciting company whose admirable aim is to increase the level of representation of women in theatre. “Loquitur” translates as “she speaks”: yes, she does, but as well as speaking she must also “project, dahling”, as Eve would declaim.
Review by Peter Yates
Fémage à Trois is a trilogy of independent stories, told by the women central to them, as they each come to terms with the circumstances they face and the choices they have to make.
Featuring ground breaking work by Charlotte O’Leary with the shocking ‘I Don’t Care’; simple, empathic ‘Closure’ by Bruntwood Prize winning Anna Jordan, and Nick Cox with the beautifully poignant ‘And, Breathe’.
Tragic, funny and human; they demonstrate that life – often so desperately normal – is eternally fascinating, hilarious and deeply profound.
Fémage à Trois at The Vaults Theatre for two nights only ahead of its run at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016.