Well before feminist Twitter hashtags, there was French academic and journalist Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986). Unfortunately, some of us know more of her associations than we do of her words. For a crash course we can find a cross-section of these (and only these) in DE STROYED.
Co-creators Jillian Murray and Suzanne Chaundy scoured translations of seven de Beauvoir texts, collating passages from fiction, collections of letters, and autobiographical writing published from 1949 to 1990. The title DE STROYED references 1967’s The Woman Destroyed (originally, Le Femme rompue).
Chaundy directed and Murray performed the monologue of DE STROYED. Certain relationships featured – those drawn from fiction, such as those between a husband and wife, or mother and son, and the actual, say, between the kindred spirits of de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre.
Through these we explored themes that can be particularly burdensome for women. These included the external, such as processing the failure of a husband to maintain his interests, or of a son to develop acceptable ones, both in life and in a potential mate. We also heard ruminations on the personal, such as the challenges of aging and the perceived pressure to maintain one’s appearance.
As for Murray’s award-winning performance in L’amante Anglaise, here she was also a compelling presence. Murray showed a remarkable ability to switch between emotional states. Droll observations on intimate relationships and time’s passing drew chuckles from the audience. Other times her frustration was palpable as we heard how a character’s husband was aging so poorly that it stopped her from forgetting about her own advancing years.
As for L’amante Anglaise, the mostly-seated Murray avoided the superfluous, keeping us focused on the words and her interpretation of them. However, there were some bells and whistles in the production of DE STROYED. When Zoe Scoglio’s video design had cascading fragments of text, these distracted from Murray’s performance of those same words.
The video was more complementary when colour variations alluded to the changes of mood, or of metaphorical seasons in a life. Video of old photos being retrieved were particularly effective at hinting at the rummaging through one’s memory for details of events long ago. The co-creators’ choices and ordering of passages gave us a good variety of offerings. Under Chaundy’s direction, the work glided gracefully between the different threads.
Unlike L’amante Anglaise though, I didn’t feel that DE STROYED had particularly striking ideas that will cause it to stick in the memory. This was surprising as aspects of de Beauvoir’s writings are certainly still relevant in the #TimesUp era. Regardless, audiences will still find this a quality production.
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 17 May 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 27 May 2018
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Image: Jillian Murray stars in De Stroyed (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte