Director Tom Littler has a knack for sniffing out neglected plays that merit reappraisal. His production of ‘The Living Room’, Graham Greene’s rarely seen 1963 piece, at the Jermyn Street Theatre last year proved atmospheric and absorbing. This, the first London production in 29 years of ‘Martine’, an intriguing, emotional play by the French dramatist Jean-Jacques Bernard, is even more so.
The year is 1920: a young soldier, Julien (Barnaby Sax), is back from fighting in Syria. On his way to his grandmother’s country house, he meets a local lass, Martine (Hannah Murray, of ‘Skins’ fame). They enjoy a playful flirtation under an apple tree, but their affair is soon threatened by the arrival of Julien’s fiancée, Jeanne (Leila Crerar).
Bernard is often compared to Chekhov, and it isn’t difficult to see why: Bernard’s supposed rural idyll, at a significant distance from the social melting pot of Paris, could easily be one of Chekhov’s dachas.
In this excellent translation by novelist John Fowles – last heard in Peter Hall’s 1985 production for the National Theatre – Bernard’s fractured, resonant dialogue feels compellingly truthful. And to my mind, his social consciousness pre-empts that of Arnold Wesker - especially in this play’s examination of the intellectual gulf between Julien and Martine.
The evening does have its longueurs, but some superb performances – especially from Murray as the trusting, lovelorn Martine – wring every drop of emotion from a very worthwhile revival.
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The minimal set and few props only served to emphasise superb actors. It is a truly heartbreaking story and you'll quickly find yourself sucked into this small world. The dialogue is so real and the characters' frustration palpable. I would definitely recommend it. Word of warning- the theatre probably can't seat more than 50 people and, with the price being so low and the acting so good, it's bound to sell out soon.