Les Enfants Terribles

2 out of 5 stars
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Harbinger Theatre deserves brownie points for mounting what is, if the company's own billing is accurate, the first-ever English-language stage adaptation of Jean Cocteau's 1929 novel 'Les Enfants Terribles'. So it's a shame that the book's transition from page to stage should have proven so unsuccessful.

Cocteau's story follows an orphaned brother and sister, Elisabeth and Paul, whose curious, incestuous relationship leads inevitably to disaster.

It might be broodingly intense on the page, and in the 1950 film adaptation. But here, in Helen Shutt's adaptation, it's simply confusing. Key plot-points – like Paul's unhealthy obsession with a bullying classmate, and what exactly happens to Elisabeth's wealthy fiancé – have been excised or condensed, so it's often difficult to understand what's going on.

Designer Amber Dernulc's set – a messy bedroom that forms the siblings' claustrophobic world – is atmospheric, but fails to root the play in any particular period. Odd bursts of music – everything from Bach to Nick Cave – are also distracting. Jacques Brel's 'Amsterdam' is a particularly poor choice for the violent closing scene, with the Belgian's nasal tones lending proceedings a presumably unintentional air of pantomime.

There are some committed performances, particularly from Alice Beaumont as Elisabeth. But we are never made to engage deeply enough with any of the characters to feel more than a passing interest in their solipsistic cruelty.


Event phone: 020 7793 9193
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