Review by Lily Stokes
French drama film Détruire, dit-elle (Destroy, She Said) was directed and written by French novelist Marguerite Duras in 1969. Based on her book of the same title, the film explores a sophisticated dalliance between four characters on vacation at a quiet hotel in rural France. The erotic intrigue of this four-way rendevouz masks a chillingly deceptive form of madness, personified by the dangerous forest encroaching on the property. As the four spend more days and nights together, they succumb to a shared form of insanity, the curtain of civilization is drawn aside to reveal the guests caught in a cycle of controlled madness.
Claudia Osborne’s theatrical revival of Destroy, She Said graced Beloir theatre’s downstairs theatre as part of 25A - is a new program of low-cost independent theatre, challenging independent and emerging artists to create a show for $1500. Overall, the production value was fantastic considering the a budget limitations - the set, costumes, lighting and overall artistic vision were faithful to Duras’ original works, and created a surreal and shifting reality underpinned by erotic intrigue and a chillingly deceptive form of madness. Although the production value was great, I think the script was underdeveloped and the concept and narrative was difficult to understand. Unless you’d seen the film or read the book, you’d have been clueless as to what was happening in the production without said supplementary knowledge. That being said, the production did boast some really strong elements and the creative team should be congratulated for translating Duras’ iconic work to the stage under such budget constraints.
One of the strongest elements of the production was the set, to the credit of Grace Deacon and Kelsey Lee. The stage was set picture-perfectly, with checkerboard floors, astroturf, lamps and telephones creating a nuclear domestic scene. Lurking under the set, natural grasses gradually infiltrated the scene, serving as a reminder of the encroaching “dangerous forest” that surrounded the pastoral setting. A hollow soundscape (Angus Mills) of hurdy-gurdyesque drone, accompanied by children’s laughter and screams,complemented this disturbed and unnaturally eerie aesthetic between scenes as the set sunk into grass in darkness.
The lighting design (Kelsey Lee) was also a highlight, with pink strobes between scenes revealing fleeting and disturbing images of madness that ensued beyond the calculated socialisation between the characters. Although the lighting was fantastic, I think the episodic scenes could have been strung together more consistently without convoluted black outs separating each episode.
Beyond the production elements, the performances of the ensemble were also a highlight. Grace Simbert’s Elisabeth Alione teetered on the verge of a melt down, with audience’s holding their breath in anticipation of an eruption that simmered under the surface but would never come. Adriane Daff glided effortlessly back and forth between the roles of confidant, seductress, and predator in her portrayal of Alissa - although her psychological attacks on Elisabeth seemed more apathetic than aggressive at times. The portrayals of Stein (Gabriel Alvarado) and Max Thor (Andreas Lohmeyrer) were very similar - underspoken and reserved - so some distinction between the two would have provided some points of interest in group scenes. Lastly, Tommy Misa’s Bernard served as some well needed comedic relief - although I’m unsure this was intentional.
Once criticism I do have is of the overall group dynamic between the primary four performers, which seemed quite homogenous. Without clear individual objectives or throughlines, they melted into one - which I suspect was intentional to demonstrate their shared decline further into a common madness. Despite the air of subtle yet persistent insanity, interactions were stifled and disconnected, a fault that could also be attributed to the dialogue in the script. It seemed like each line was independent, unrelated to those before and after, making much of the dialogue seem redundant. There was a lot of talking, but not much was said.
Despite the downfalls of the written work, the production elements of Destroy, She Said combined to deliver the flavours of Duras’ original work. With some refinement of the dialogue and narrative, I believe this performance could have been elevated and made clearer for audiences who were unfamiliar with the film and book. As it stands, I don’t think this production would be well understood by audiences with no former knowledge of the content, but would certainly entertain them - as it has me.