Lacklustre and totally unsatisfying, Lesere fails to impress. Set in 1921, during the Interwar period, John and Jane Lesere have settled into an unexciting provincial life in France. Enter the enigmatic George (unintelligible surname in tow) who works to upend the couple’s serenity in a violent whirlwind of emotional trauma.
The production’s set is simple, but built with an undeniable French elegance. The world is at peace with itself, and there is no sign of the destruction wrought by the Great War – grapevines dip in and out of high above, whilst a bright white-floored living room gives the impression of a charmed, sun-dappled life. Strains of Vivaldi in the background lends it an aristocratic air, speckled with birdsong. It is a scene plucked right out of a naturist Victorian novel where calm and happiness can only abound. The set, however, was the most impressive aspect in the entire production. The production’s set design achieves all the things that the writing and acting could not: truth, sincerity and elegance.
Truth be told, the play’s main problem lies in its narrative – there is simply very little point to it being told at all. At first glance, the story seems compelling: two traumatised war victims have their idyll thrown into chaos by a volatile third party, who forces them to reveal and re-evaluate their pasts. But why? Who is George? He clearly is not who he says he is through his own admission. Why is he so hell-bent on tearing apart the Leseres? Why isn’t he thrown out the moment Jane feels even slightly threatened by his presence? Why does John keep brushing aside George’s clear insanity? Question upon question heaps up until eventually the entire play resolves itself into a giant question mark. Forget the intrigue of secrecy and the thrill of voyeurism – the play seems intent on keeping audience members in the dark all the way to the end. This dissatisfying production ends with the spiteful swipe, sitting unresolved in the abrupt murder of the guest. George remains an enigma, John and Jane convey very little about themselves to like, and frankly, the entire production feels superfluous.
Why was this play necessary at all, except as a shallow rendering of traumatised participants in war? Their secrets are interesting enough, perhaps, with the present usual suspects of sexual infidelity, parental failure and self-delusion. The idyll is broken, yes, but for what purpose? The couple are now aware of the darkness of each other’s past, but what exactly they have learned from these revelations is difficult to discern considering Holloway’s stingy ending. Sometimes the play’s hostility directed itself at Jane, turning the play into a world where female mystique is stripped bare and shouted down – this was compounded by the undoubtedly lecherous grins of both men in the company, and the bandying about of Jane’s private writings. Jane’s diary is the physical manifestation of the play’s secrets, but visually it also connotes the play’s lack of respect for the female mind and inner life. Everyone has their secrets revealed, but it is centred on the lone woman of the play, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Many other interesting aspects are not exploited for its full potential. Notably, the separation between idyll and nightmare – visualised by the bright and dark territorial distinctions of the platform and its surrounding space – was never addressed. Perhaps we are meant to surmise that the world beyond the domestic is terrifying and isolating, pictured by the shivering and stutter-stop motions of the actors, but who really knows. This, like most things in the play, is an unnecessary limb, flying about in the wind without much reason for being there.
Of course, as a script lacking in ingenuity or reasonable progression yields such results. One feels the characters are bombs constantly threatening to explode. There is an uneasiness in the way Thomas’s Jane greets her husband; she has a seemingly permanent look of sorrow on her face which hardly changes at all, except to swing momentarily to shock. John’s affection was forced, his grin just a little too wide to be happy – he loves her more than she loves him, and it shows. Was George’s appearance necessary, or would something have exploded in spite of it? Atwill played the undesirable guest with a mania that came on too strong. It was completely unbelievable that John and Jane could think this man as anything but an utter psychopath, let alone a person whose words could be trusted. The entire set-up of this Interwar drama is artificial to its very core. Are we meant to feel this artificiality? Uncertainty tinges the actors’ performances so we’re not quite sure what (if anything) to believe in.
Overall, the play leaves one feeling utterly dissatisfied and more than little disappointed. Despite the positive influences of a pretty set and an interesting idea, the play fails to achieve a coherent movement or sense. It wants to be too many things: a domestic drama, an examination of the effects of war, a revenge tragedy, a star-crossed romance, and a psychological thriller. The heaving burden of too many plates ultimately results in a play lacking direction, voice or point.