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Golden Goose Theatre Presents The Captive | Review

What was originally a melodrama has been slimmed down in this production (so much so that no cast list was made available to the audience at the performance I attended), and while emotions still run high, particularly between married couple Jacques and Irene, people’s feelings aren’t as drawn out as they would have been had the full set of characters been on stage. In the play as it was when it premiered in 1926 in Paris, there are servants, as well as Irene’s sister Gisele, and their father, known only by his surname, De Montcel, amongst others: this version reduces the narrative to just four people, the aforementioned Jacques and Irene, plus Francoise Meillant and D’Aiguines, both friends of Jacques.

Golden Goose Theatre Presents The Captive.
Golden Goose Theatre Presents The Captive.

Tame by today’s standards – the ‘content advisories’ section on the venue’s website advises ‘no warnings for this production’ – the 1926 Broadway run was opposed by various groups and societies, because of its inclusion of a lesbian in the story. The powers that be (or rather were) succeeded in shutting down the play, with police arresting the lead actors mid-performance one evening, apparently for obscenity.

Arguably, Irene might be better described as bisexual, given her marriage to Jacques, although it ultimately appears she was merely following the social conventions of the time – she initially requested that Jacques pretend to be engaged to her. The pair are eventually able to reach a point of open honesty with one another, and while it is heartbreaking, it is also, given the constraints within which queer relationships was still a love ‘that dare not speak its name’, something of a cathartic release. D’Aiguines, practically cross-examined in the first half by Jacques as to what he knows about Irene (Jacques and Irene appear to marry in the interval), is remarkably progressive (again, for the 1920s), advising Jacques not to bother fighting for the love of a woman who fundamentally really loves another woman: “She can never belong to you. Leave her.

As for supposed obscenities, it’s not as if the four on-stage characters get together, yank each other’s clothes off, and have an orgy. Everything, and everyone, is highly civilised: even when there was the occasional potential for violence, it was evident things were never going to get that ugly, and there was never going to be a need for (fake) stage blood. The costumes were suitable for the period, and while a pub theatre on a main road on a Friday evening may not have provided the most conducive atmosphere for a quiet play, watching the characters grappling with their personal lives and what, deep down, really makes them happy, was a fascinating experience. There’s a lot of inequality and unfairness in the world still, but one is inclined to be grateful, having seen this show, that attitudes towards LGBT+ people are not what they once were.

The dramatic tension is very much evident, and the ruthless cuts to the original translation work in this production’s favour – the story progresses at a comfortably brisk pace, even by contemporary standards. What’s left of the script is still rich in its vocabulary, brought to life by a convincing cast in this subtle yet fierce production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Captive is a play first staged in 1926 in Paris which, upon being translated and staged on Broadway, was one of the first to have an explicitly lesbian character. The play tells the story of Jacques, a man in love with his friend Irene, who in turn is a lesbian struggling to hide her lover, Madame d’Aguines.

Part of a canon of LGBT+ plays pre-empting a more repressive time in mainstream European and American theatre, The Captive offers a fascinating insight into how lesbians were understood and portrayed nearly a century ago.

Director – Rae Morris
Lighting and sound design – Toby Ison

Jacques – Jack Medlin
Irene – Lily-Rose Morris-Zumin
Francoise – Fuschia Webb
M. D’Aguines – Theo Collins

Golden Goose Theatre
The Captive
Fri 22nd – Sat 23rd March 2024

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