DARING. Ambitious. Ground-breaking. Courageous. These are words regularly used to describe the work that has been staged at London’s Finborough Theatre since artistic director Neil McPherson took over the helm some 20 years ago.
Yet the same adjectives cannot be applied to the theatre’s latest offering Break Of Noon. More appropriate are the words: boring, wooden and long-winded.
Anyone surviving the two-hour fare deserves a badge of honour although some (sensibly) at the showing on Sunday night bailed out during the interval. But not going on their way until they had ordered a stiff whisky at the pub bar downstairs to help shake them out of a theatre-induced stupor. Others spent most of the performance catching up on their sleep.
Timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Paul Claudel – the play’s author – Break Of Noon (Partage de Midi) follows the fortunes of four intrepid travellers as they head by boat from France to Hong Kong at the start of the twentieth century. Not a particularly pleasant group of individuals to spend a tiresome voyage with. Indeed, some would probably prefer to jump overboard than spend a night in their company.
There is Amalric (Connor Williams) who is loud, brash and something of a chancer. Not far behind him on the chancer stakes is De Ciz (David Durham) who cuts an imposing figure in his white linen. Boom boom boom goes his voice. Operatic. Think Pavarotti.
De Ciz is husband of Yse (Elizabeth Boag) who when it comes to love does not quite know where the wind blows from – or to. She once loved Amalric (although embers still flicker) and has long lost the hots for her husband who she seems to despise for thinking she was only fit for rearing children. The final part of the jigsaw is Chinese official Mesa (Matt Lim) who is a virgin but is mesmerised by Yse. Complicated? Yes. A love quadrangle.
What follows is the equivalent of musical love chairs as Yse’s love flits between Mesa and Amalric. Children are born and die, rebellions rage, blood is shed and De Ciz disappears, not to boom boom boom again.
Mesa, no longer a virgin, finds love, loses it and then is determined to find it again. Long soliloquies follow. Interminable ones that would test the patience of the most godly of saints. Delivered with little zest or feeling.
It is all rather painful to watch. The acting is OK although it is difficult to sparkle when presented with such turgid fare. Boag tries mighty hard with Yse but it is difficult to fathom why she jumps from one to bed to another with the regularity of a bed-hopper. Presented with the three men in her life, I would opt for none of them. I would become a nun.
At two hours, the play is probably half an hour too long. With brutal editing it could work but then again it might not. This is a restoration – timed to coincide with the Finborough’s own 150th anniversary celebrations – that should never have got off the ground.
The fact that the Finborough had suffered a power cut the day before, forcing the cancellation of the day’s shows, was surely an omen. Break of Noon is a play that should be laid to rest. Break of Noon? High Noon? Low Noon. No more moon.
Break of Noon runs until June 5.