Thursday, 21 July 2011

Quills - A tale of the macabre, Barnfield Theatre Wednesday - Friday 20-22 July

Louis Ravensfield and Ben Rodwell
wait for 'curtain up'
Many thanks to Louis Ravensfield and his 'Exeter Alternative Theatre Company'. After much perparation they are performing Doug Wright's 1990s play 'Quills' at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter for three nights this week.

Louis and Ben
as Dr Royer-Collard and M.Prouix
discuss improvements to the doctor's villa
There is plenty for classical music lovers to enjoy too. The play opens with the singing of the Helsinki Skaala Opera, also included are a recordings of the Kronos Quartet, and the Philip Glass Orchestra. During a particularly moving scene the haunting sound of Philip Glass's 'Koyaanisqatsi' adds a special frisson.

The doctor is visited by de Sade's wife
Renée Pélagie (Virginia Havergal)
Not necessarily a faithful account of his life, Quills nevertheless reflects our perception of the Marquis de Sade nearly two centuries after his death. From 1801 to 1814 he was incarcerated in the Charenton asylum in St Maurice on the outskirts of Paris. During that time Napoleon overran Vienna. Beethoven premiered his great Fifth Symphony, Nelson defeated the French fleet at Trafalgar and Napoleon's land forces were being pushed towards their final defeat at Waterloo.

Royer-Collard remonstrates with
The Abbé de Coulmier (Mike Gilpin)
A couple of references to Napoleon and Empress Josephine in the script clearly date the play, but Sarah and Chloe have otherwise tried to avoid tying the plot to a specific period. The costumes are of indeterminate period, and the extreme make-up effects hint at a terrifying fantasy world - the world inhabited by the inmates of Charenton.
The Marquis de Sade (Midge Mullin)
and the 'Lunatic Chorus'
(photo: Nigel Cheffers-Heard)
As the Marquis uses his quills (and other writing implements) to record his vivid and deviant fantasies of selfish exploitation, each other character, with unconscious irony, demonstrates his or her own cynical selfishness.

Violence and Death (you have been warned!)
(photo: Nigel Cheffers-Heard)
Louis Ravensfield and Mike Gilpin, as the consultant and director of the institution, Dr Royer-Collard and Abbé de Coulmier, are equally menacing and destructive in their own ways. The doctor is a ruthless social climber willing to exploit his patients, including de Sade, for personal advancement. De Coulmier on the other hand aspires to christian humility. This contradictory notion leads to even more disaster and suffering as persues his religious ideals.

The two main female characters Renée Pélagie (Virginia Havergal) and Madelaine Leclerk (Victoria Jones) are manipulative in their own ways and, in true Sadistic spirit kindness is punished while guile and deceit are rewarded.

Sorrel Meechan's big moment
as Mme Royer-Collard
seducing M Prouix
(photo: Nigel Cheffers-Heard)
This is a very disturbing play. De Sade in his attempts to circumvent censorship invites successively more harsh and brutal forms of repression from his captors - exceeding even his darkest fantasies. The Marquis himself and the fate that befalls him are equally shocking and definitely not for the faint-hearted.

For those who feel up to the challenge, tickets for tonight and Friday's performances are available from the Barnfield box office 6.30-7.30pm before each performance, and from 10-4 on Friday. Telephone 01392 270891

Tickets are available 24hrs from 'Quay Tickets' (£1.80 booking fee)
Telephone: 08432 080500  On Line:

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