A mother’s love is possibly the most powerful force in the world. American essayist, Washington Irving is quoted as saying ‘A father may turn his back on his child, brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies, husbands may desert their wives, wives their husbands. But a mother’s love endures through all.’ This is the ultimate truth that is at the heart of Simon James Collier’s mesmerising play “Madame X” at the Brockley Jack.
Madame Jacqueline Floriot (Chloe Fontaine) is an unhappy and bored woman. She is married to a lawyer by the name of Louis (Matthew Swann) who has ambitions for high public office. As he rises through the ranks, she is often left alone to be taken out and entertained by a mutual friend. Given these circumstances it’s not that surprising that these social outings become more intense leading to her taking the friend as her lover. When Louis finds out, he throws Jacqueline out on the Parisian streets without a bean and more importantly without having the opportunity to say goodbye to their young son Raymond (Corbin Joss Furstenburg) who is basically left in the care of the Floriot’s Housekeeper Florence (Alexandra Reynolds). Louis Floriot is alone and over the years comes to realise that he has made a mistake and that he is still in love with his unfaithful wife – something he confides to his close friend Madame Varenne (Maud Madlyn) – and tries everything in his power to find her.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline herself has become the mistress of a small time villain, Frederic Laroque (Anthony Palmer), a man who does not let his heart rule his head and is looking to break into the big time of villainy. Frederic is working with the evil Robert Henry Perissard (Rory Fairbairn) and creepy Modiste Merivel (J B Newman) to blackmail Jacqueline’s former husband and when she finds out about the plan, Jacqueline goes mad with worry. Whilst not that worried about her husband, Jacquelien is determined to protect her, now fully grown, son from the shame and humiliation that blackmail would entail and takes rash action leading to her meeting with the Police Commissioner (Mario Frendo) and an unexpected meeting with her estranged family.
Based on the original 1908 French play ‘La Femme X’ by Alexandre Bisson, playwright Simon James Collier has put together a dark – almost film noir – version of this story of a mother’s love in “Madame X”. The first act is long but extremely effective in introducing and setting up the characters and situations that really explode into action in Act II as the repercussions of Jacqueline’s actions from the end of Act I really take effect on everyone else. I am really going to single out Chloe Fontaine for her performance as Jacqueline at this point. She really brought the character to life and delivered a standout emotionally charged performance that had me hanging on her every word and action. Similarly Corbin Joss Furstenberg impassioned courtroom oratory was full of the passion and power of a man born to be an advocate and determined to win his case. The rest of the cast were equally as talented, indeed Merivel as portrayed by J B Newman still sends shivers down my spine. Director Omar F. Okai uses the stage space at the Brockley Jack beautifully and the set by Martin McLeod was wonderfully flexible as well as appropriately classical in appearance. James Corner’s sound design worked very well most of the time – particularly the use of Edith Piaf’s ‘Padam, Padam’ to illustrate Jacqueline’s life after she was dumped by her husband – but I did think that the music in the final scene was unnecessary and distracted a little. This is my only quibble with the whole production which really goes to show how good the show was overall.
“Madame X” starts slowly and gently draws the audience into the story so that before they know it, they are completely hooked on this tale of a mother’s love. My companion and I had quite a lively discussion during the interval of where the play was heading but neither of us foresaw the emotional juggernaut of a trip that the second act was going to take us on as to quote Robert Browning ‘Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.’
Review by Terry Eastham
A young woman is thrown onto the streets by her jealous husband when he discovers she has been having an affair. Forbidden from seeing her beloved young son, and with neither money nor friends, she sinks into depravity. Twenty years later, she has become the mistress of Frederic Laroque, a small-time criminal. When he discovers that her husband is now the Attorney General, Laroque decides to blackmail him…