The Story of Vasco
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2009
Georges Schehade's 1956 play is half Bertold Brecht, half Jean Anouilh – that is to say, an uneasy mix of angry antiwar satire and fey romance.
The two modes do not mix well, and the things in the play that work tend to be isolated moments in one style or the other.
The plot is a variant on Hasek's Good Soldier Schweik and Brecht's A Man's a Man, the adventure of a poor shnook conscripted into the army as cannon fodder.
In this case village barber Vasco is chosen for a suicide mission through enemy lines, in the hope that his obvious simplicity and harmlessness might pass under their radar.
Around this central adventure are a girl who falls in love with him in a dream, a trio of spies in drag, another trio of spies dressed as trees, a village mayor proud of the number of men he has sent off to die, and various mad, honourable or inept military figures.
You can see the jumble there, with Vasco, the girl and maybe the cross-dressing spies belonging in one play, and the military satire belonging in another.
And director Adam Barnard has not found a way to make them fit together, leaving the evening rather shapeless, with no emotional continuity or core.
For many, one attraction of this production will be that the translation/adaptation is by Ted Hughes - rather, pieced together by director Barnard from several versions of a libretto Hughes worked on for a 1974 opera based on the play.
The adaptation is smooth, occasionally witty, but generally just serviceable, and not likely to be a major addition to the Hughes canon.
The admirable cast, many of them doubling and tripling roles, are unable to score in more than the occasional moment. Jonathan Broadbent give Vasco the appropriate openness and innocence, and Laura Rees makes the lovestruck maiden attractive even if somehow irrelevant. Richard O'Callaghan and William Tapley also carry their moments well.
But if they and their director are not defeated by the play's weaknesses, they are unable to triumph over them.
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Review of The Story Of Vasco - Orange Tree Theatre 2009