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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Les Parents Terribles

© Mark Fisher
Published in The Guardian
Tuesday June 17, 2008
The Guardian

Jean Cocteau's knowingly bourgeois play, a runaway hit in the Paris of the late 1930s, stretches the form of the domestic drama to breaking point. It is as if Oedipus, Lady Macbeth and Gertrude wound up in the same boulevard melodrama - with a couple more archetypes thrown in for good measure.

Any other playwright having dreamed up Yvonne, a matriarchal monster with an incestuous passion for Michael, her 22-year-old son, would have been content to leave it at that. But Cocteau ratchets up the stakes with a husband and sister of such unscrupulousness that the Parisian flat becomes a claustrophobic hothouse of duplicity.

So manipulative are this trio of pleasure seekers that even the conventional goodness of the younger generation is thrown into doubt. Is Michael a corrupted mummy's boy or love's young dream? Is Madeleine genuinely swayed by her love for both father and son, or a two-timing money grabber?

Such uncertainty keeps us gripped enough to forgive the overly explanatory passages of the play, produced here in the sparky 1994 version by Jeremy Sams. These characters are at once grotesque and credible, the more so in a brilliantly acted, late-60s production by Stewart Laing on a superb twin-level letter-box set of his own design.

As Yvonne, Ann Louise Ross gives a great show of volatility, switching by the line from frisky to hectoring to narcissistic. She is matched in spiritedness by Kevin Lennon's Michael, and in deviousness by Irene Macdougall's passive-aggressive sister and John Buick's adulterous husband. It is hard to decide whether Emily Winter's earnest young lover is an innocent party or this frightening family's natural heir.

Laing captures the conflict between primal passions and polite exteriors by tempering the actors' restless energy with a painterly awareness of space. Melodrama rarely looked so good.

· Until June 21. Box office: 01382 223530.

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