This review of Life x3, written by Yasmina Reza, first appeared in Offbeat News, our bi-monthly newsletter.
At its core, Yasmina Reza's 2000 four-hander is a straightforward examination of relationships. Yet, by an ingenious time warp, it is much more complex.
It depicts how two couples respond to the same event - a missed dinner party - by reacting differently to varying moods and stimuli. Two of the three versions of life have a decidedly and deliberate ‘déjà vu' feeling to them, as echoes of previous snatches of conversation and references recur in the second and third depictions. In each case, of course, there are subtle variations, giving rise to shifts in the course of events, some unexpected and quite eventful.
The four main characters could well be the four points of the compass for all their mutual rapport. Sonia (Loretta Freeman) and Henry (Paul Russell) have recently moved into their flat in an upwardly mobile arrondissement of Paris. She is a lawyer working currently for a finance company, while Henry is an astrophysicist engaged in research into 'the flatness of halos'.
The guests are chalk and cheese. Hubert Finidori (Mel Powell) is Henry's creepy, more successful immediate supervisor; Inez (Hazel Halliday) gives every impression of being self-centred and opinionated, at least early on.
What should have been a pleasant evening at home for Sonia and Henry degenerates into ill-temper and spitefulness, fuelled initially by the refusal of their six-year-old son (Arnaud, played unseen but not unheard offstage by Martyn Leonard) to fall asleep. A toxic mix of disagreements and friction over childcare; Sonia's inability to work at her log; Henry's petulant frustration with his son and his wife's attitude towards Arnaud, born of his own research and failure to publish, are all compounded by the untimely arrival on the wrong evening of the Finidoris. No meal, paltry nibbles and abundant Sancerre are no recipe for harmony.
Claudia McKelvey's production was certainly pacey, the pointers that versions two and three were alternative replays being finely delineated. There is little doubt that the cast helped immensely here. The acting was of very fine order, repartee was positively staccato and practically faultless, stage movement apparently effortless.
The shifts in reaction were delicate yet well evidenced. Notably, Sonia was palpably bored by Inez's exposé on childcare, and in the end retaliatory. Henry was goaded to the extreme by Hubert's malign, casual and maybe fraudulent revelation of a scientific paper to be published in Henry's specialist field. Henry himself cast aside all inhibition in variant three when he finally heard that the alleged Mexican paper dealt with a parallel topic.
Hubert was a mixture of cunning and self-importance, as he expatiated on the Finnish conference. Inez was constantly undermined and succumbed to Sancerre in desperation at her husband's continual put-downs. The changes were step by step, but how did Sonia become momentarily attracted to the braggart Hubert?
Although Reza is on record as preferring the 'Americanised translation, it was not intrusive. Yet how were a well-heeled Parisian couple reduced to wrapped cheeses and packet snack biscuits, whatever the circumstances or occasion? How did that slip by the translator?
Chris Janes had devised a minimalist set, appropriately so to allow full concentration on the intensity of the dialogue. Together with a centre-stage glossy coffee table, there were just three black and white Art Deco style settees, as though picked up casually in a North Paris flea market.
Stage mechanics worked well - door bell, Arnaud's off-stage cassette player and whining (a bit young for a six-year old?) [ed: he's seven, I'll have you know!] and lighting all met the mark.
Although much less acclaimed than Reza's first play Art and variously described as a trilogy, triptych or even three one-acters, Life x 3 nonetheless achieved a degree of approval for its sophistication, wit and fusion within a rarefied field of activity, all set against humdrum routine preoccupations. This CoPs production owed a great deal to the great ability of the cast to get this across.
Photographs by Steve Beeston.