1/4/10, Young Vic
2 hrs 20 mins. David Harrower version of an 1895 Arthur Schnitzler play (Liebelei) updated to the late 1920s, directed by Luc Bondy.
Disappointing first half, much stronger second. In part one two lower-middle-class good time girls (milliner's assistant Mitzi and her shyer friend Christine) go round to the apartment of posh Fritz and his friend Theodore for a drunken party. Mitzi and Theo seem uninhibited (though the action never gets beyond drunken pawing, and whenever it threatens to she throws him off with apparent disdain), Christine fancies herself in love with Fritz. Fritz however is conducting an affair with a married woman, though clearly attracted to Christine as well. The party is interrupted by the married woman's husband, a model of wronged rectitude in hat and overcoat and scarf. The girls are taken into another room and shushed; a duel is offered and accepted.
In the second half we're in Christine's flat, which she shares with her father, a violinist in a theatre orchestra, and much of the time a nosy and disapproving neighbour. She imagines heself fervently in love with Fritz; Mitzi comes round; Fritz and Theo come round; Fritz and Christine embrace but he won't say he loves her; he goes off to fight duel and is killed. At the end, when the news is broken to her, she is utterly distraught.
The ending was evident a mile off, but the script neatly fixed the ambiguities of Fritz's position. It helped that Tom Hughes, who played him, has a narcissist's face; he was good at suggesting Fritz's self-absorbed brooding on the impossible position he'd got himself into, and incipient panic at the prospect of the duel; but vocally he was a bit underpowered.
The women had it. Kate Burdette as Christine utterly convincing, girlish, flirtatious, petulant, only just out of adolescence; and she brought off her hysterics at the end remarkably convincingly (when they took the curtain call Hughes looked smug, she still looked distraught). Hayley Carmichael (who co-founded Told by an Idiot) very funny as the neighbour. Natalie Dormer (who was apparently Anne Boleyn in The Tudors on TV -- Wikipedia claims this is her first stage role) pert and worldly as Mitzi.
Hughes looked the part (a touch of the Jonathan Rhys-Myers about him, in fact) but needs to project more; Jack Laskey as his friend Theodore had no trouble projecting as the noisy, jokey (though ultimately serious) good time boy with spectacle and in the first act extraordinarily sticky-up hair which was slicked down and neatly combed making him look quite different when he arrived at the end of act two in officer's uniform, not so much to bring Christine the bad news (she divined it herself) as to react petulantly when she collapsed and he complained angrily of how much pressure he'd been under himself.
Audience on three sides of a circular raised playing area, which slowly revolved. Bed, screen, grand piano, a couple of chairs and a small table in the first act and a black-framed window which revolved with the stage; bed, screen, rocking chair, white-framed window ditto in the second. Entrances and exits had to be up steps strategically placed around the revolve; there was a trolley with drinks and cakes and crockery in the well at the front in the first act, and music stands as if in an orchestra pit in the second. The steps might have been a disaster; in fact the cast negotiated them with aplomb, and occasionally the set-up was used to positive effect, like Theo coming on at the very start, teetering on the edge of the revolve, or the wronged husband stiffly and deliberately negotiating the window, which had got in his way at the top of the steps.
Great dresses -- flapper-style in the first act, a lovely white cotton number for Christine in the second act.