Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2018 Published 28 August 2018

Review: La Maladie de la Mort at Edinburgh International Festival

Emotional disconnection: Lilith Wozniak writes on Katie Mitchell and Alice Birch’s unsettling retelling of a story of a sexual fantasy.

Lilith Wozniak

‘La Maladie de la Morte’ at Edinburgh International Festival

Naked bodies look a lot less weird on screen.

It feels odd, sometimes, to remember that everyone is naked under their clothes – so unusual to see out and about in the world that it can feel disconcerting to see the visual proof that, yes, everyone else has a body as well. Even on stage without the right context or ‘sexy’ sidelighting it can seem so stark and out of place. It is an effect that I like – nudity, rather than shock tactic, as something closer to a slightly unsettling reminder of reality. On a screen on the other hand it feels like it should be there, your view directed by the camera, the angle and lighting perfectly matched to make this body seem more normal than natural.

During La Maladie de la Mort I find myself more and more watching the large screen above the stage rather than the physical actors below. As a play centred around a man who hires a woman to sleep with him to try to overcome a profound emotional disconnection maybe this feeling is mirrored in the use of the screen. It brings the actors and emotions and story onstage closer to us in one way – their bodies, tiny onstage, blown-up to close up – but with framing which in another way only increases the distance between us and the characters. Sex scenes which, if I had merely watched on stage would have made me deeply uncomfortable, barely raised my eyebrow – I almost forgot that the actors onstage had to enact them. The tone and pacing of the play also help to create this sense of dulled reactions – slow and ponderous it means sometimes horrific or disturbing events onstage, which could feel like a gut punch, felt like they were merely brushing past me.

Something else that the camera emphasises is the act of watching. Having never read Duras’ story I can’t speak to the original, but if the man was ever the main character he certainly isn’t here. Despite her small share in the speaking it is the woman we watch, her watching him. In a story about a woman being seen only as a potential solution to a man’s problem, a fantasy to be twisted any which way, it is her who we see not only as a person to pity, but as a person whose opinions and feelings are bubbling just under the surface. She is the character, he the plot device.

With its story and its timing and its creative team (with Katie Mitchell and Alice Birch both separately and together previously exploring women’s lives in relationship to a male environment) this play will inevitably will be looked at within the frame of the #MeToo movement. But in this regard, and many others, I just don’t know what to say about it. The play is simultaneously simple and strange. Politically it feels both didactic and opaque. I barely know what I think about it, and I absolutely don’t know how it made me feel.

This production was on at The Lyceum as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. More info here.

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Lilith Wozniak is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: La Maladie de la Mort at Edinburgh International Festival Show Info


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