Maggie and Pierre is a play tracking a very public love story: a prominent politician embarks on a whirlwind romance with a young and beautiful woman who proves to be more a caged animal than a dignified first lady. It’s a story with which British audiences are intimately familiar, this time taking place in mid-century Canada, where Pierre and Margaret Trudeau captured the hearts of the left-leaning, frostbitten nation.
A one woman show with three parts, Maggie and Pierre is performed entirely by Kelly Burke, who portrays the two titular characters and Henry, a reporter who is doomed to find himself repeatedly entangled in their tempestuous affair. He relays the tale from the beginning: from Margaret’s hippie roots in Morocco to her breakdown and Pierre’s removal from office. Margaret is undeniably the heart and soul of this production, portrayed with a flickering innocence and healthy contempt for the society that moulded her. Pierre is measured and subdued, with a dedication to the po-faced politician that almost drives Margaret mad, and Henry scrabbles wildly through, trying desperately to make sense out of it all.
Burke’s performance is disciplined and empathetic, but it’s an uphill battle. Pierre’s inscrutability goes unchallenged in the text, leaving us with the sense that we are watching a play with an absent centre, where two wounded, human characters flail in response to the smooth inner-workings of the shrewd political mind. The production doesn’t help: crammed into the set for another play, director Eduard Lewis seeks to remedy the problem with loud, garish distraction rather than organic pathos. A huge banner shouting REASON OVER PASSION sounds the death knell for the lovers’ relationship long before the first cracks begin to show, and the relentless costume changes demonstrate a lack of faith in the performer: Burke could have conjured the ball gowns, dress suits, negligees and leather jackets herself without the indignity of constantly disappearing behind a screen, one elbow sticking out of an ill-fitting pinstripe shirt and a dress around her ankles.
That being said, her magnetism and a gripping story sees us through. Maggie and Pierre is a warm and haunting telling of a story often told, and we’re in safe hands with this performance. Lewis would do well to pare back the brashness of this production in order to let it truly shine.
Maggie and Pierre is on until 5th July 2016. Click here for more information.