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Ondine, by Jean Giraudoux, at the White Bear

Wednesday, 7 March, 2012

A fantasy about love, youth and life

The White Bear’s performance space is, let’s be honest, small. So, if you are intent on getting close to the art of the actor, there are few places better to do it. It does though, come with some difficulties. Set designers (particularly) beware; there is no place to hide and imperfections unquestionably show.

Elizabeth Merrick is an enigmatic Ondine

So it was nice to see that a large cast for such a small theatre had been assembled to play ‘Ondine’ – a fantasy about love, and youth and life written by Jean Giraudoux What’s more, director Cat Robey clearly wanted to do it right. Yes, there were a few short cuts here and there, but what was evident from three acts, with a ten minute interval between each for scene changes, was that here was a director who was aiming for a complete theatrical experience.

I suppose it would be fair to say that the opening is a little slow, but this is one of those productions that you are going to have to give a chance to. It warms up distinctly with the entrance of the enigmatic and mysterious Ondine (Elizabeth Merrick) and gets decidedly involving by the second act, when the even more mysterious illusionist (Richard Hurst) makes his presence felt. In Act Two as well, the set (by Zanna Mercer) is worth the wait, doing everything that’s asked of it, yet not too complex to overpower the action.

The play itself is a strange affair. Ondine is actually (as becomes obvious from the first few lines) some kind of water spirit who morphs into something close to a human, largely, it would seem, because young men are just so beautiful. If that sounds trivial, the actual sentiments and the way in which they come across are both charming and quite powerful. Elizabeth Merrick (she also composed and performed the haunting cello music that accompanies the action) as Ondine seemed to carry just the right balance of passion and danger, an energetically fired and unsatisfied spirit, who could fall in love on the instant.

The play has a good balance too. The second act provides some comedy relief in amongst the inevitable progression towards disaster for someone (sea spirits don’t ever, in my experience, fall in love with humans without something disastrous happening to someone) and that helps to hold attention and give an audience something to think about during those inter-act breaks.

In the end, the audience is left with a huge amount of feeling for Ondine and her tragedy, which in many ways is more poignant because death for her is an impossibility.

There wasn’t a huge audience when I saw it. But even a few lads from the bar took the chance to watch one of the acts (and I bet that’s not something they do often). Ondine deserves its chance. Suspending disbelief may sometimes be a little difficult, but you can’t but admire the commitment of the actors and others in bringing this enigmatic mystery to our attention.

Cast: Phoebe Batteson Brown – Voilante/Kitchen Maid; Terry Diab – Eugenie/Fisherwoman; Michael Eden – Auguste/Judge; Marian Elizabeth – Bertha; Hilary Hodsman – Queen, Executioner; Richard Hurst – King of the Sea/Illusionist; Rob Leonard – Superintendant/Servant; Elizabeth Merrick – Ondine; David Frias Robles – Bertram; Brice Stratford – Lord Chamberlain/Judge; Andrew Venning – Hans

Director – Cat Robey; Costumes – Joanne Cornish; Set Design – Zanna Mercer; Lighting – Phoebe Hunt; Assistant Technician – Amy Martin

(c) Michael Spring 2011

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