La Leçon
Jean-François Gavanon, Lisa Harper Campbell, Daniele Allen @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage
6:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2014
Out of all the Fringe shows I’ve ever seen, La Leçon is the only the second show that I can immediately remember that featured subtitles. They were very much required, since this incarnation of Ionesco‘s The Lesson was performed entirely in French… and my three years of language study were sufficiently long ago that I’m not much use beyond bonjour, ça va?
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen The Lesson, of course; I’d caught an excellent (English-speaking) version on my fortieth birthday which proved to be a real highlight of that Fringe. And it really is a cracking play, with a seemingly normal opening descending through absurdism to take on almost farcical qualities, before turning back upon itself to tie things up in a nice, cyclical bow.
Jean-François Gavanon plays the pivotal Professor role, bringing with it a convincing ascension of anger. Lisa Harper Campbell’s Pupil started off saccharine sweet, though her protestations as The Lesson progressed felt rushed and forced; Daniele Allen’s Maid was brusque, eschewing the doting care of the Professor in favour of a more perfunctory relationship. Gavanon, who also directed the performance, was clearly at home reciting Ionesco in French: his speech was lush and vibrant, with beautiful pacing. The two women were a little less convincing, though; the dialogue didn’t to roll as smoothly from their tongues, and lacked warmth as a result… luckily, that didn’t really affect the comic impact of the piece.
As an hour of entertainment, La Leçon hits the mark: Ionesco’s absurdity is easily relatable with or without the subtitles, which were thankfully legible and well placed. As a reminder of how much French I’ve forgotten, it was also successful, and it was fun to follow the subtitles and marry them to the dialogue. But it’s impossible for me not to compare this performance to the stunning production I saw in 2011; and, whilst Gavanon whipped Ionesco’s original French text around in a manner which befits the beauty of Molière’s language, he lacked the conviction and physical presence that Guy O’Grady brought to the Professor… likewise for the other two roles. Unfortunately, that 2011 cast was almost beyond reproach, and – try as they might – Gavanon, Harper Campbell, and Allen weren’t able to match up to them.
But still: laughs were had, entertainment was enjoyed, and an interest in French was re-kindled.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 13, 2014