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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Finborough Theatre  Spring 2014

The main reason to see this revival of a French drama from the 1920s is Hannah Murray in the title role. Everything else about the production is at least adequate, but it is all really just framework for her beautifully nuanced and underplayed performance. 

A young man visits a country village and has a brief flirtation with a local lass before marrying a more appropriate woman. But what was a pleasant interlude for him was the defining love of the village girl's life and, forced to live in close proximity to the happy couple, she can only pine away and resign herself to an unhappy marriage of her own. 

In outline Jean-Jacques Bernard's play (here in a 1980s translation by John Fowles) sounds like a stock 19th-century romantic novel or early 20th-century silent movie melodrama. What keeps it from cliché is a subtlety in the writing, that lays out the little tragedy but does not exaggerate it and that does not allow any of the characters, even the thoughtless young man, to become simple villains. 

And what keeps this production engrossing throughout is Hannah Murray's ability to speak volumes with her eyes, taking us into Martine's unsophisticated and unprotected emotions, from the pure joy of first love to the deadness that comes from the final abandonment of hope or fantasy. 

The actress does this without shoving the emotions at us, but by letting us discover them in the way the girl glances shyly or looks away and lets her face light up or close down.

It is a performance pitched precisely right for the Finborough's intimate space, and proof that sometimes small fringe theatre can do things better than larger venues. 

Credit to director Tom Littler for guiding the actress to this performance, and while none of the rest of the cast can match it, they provide generous support.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Martine - Finborough Theatre 2014

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