Communicating presents a problem for English teacher Celia and French pupil Pierre. This is not restricted to grammar and vocabulary, however. Both characters quickly begin to explore the various tensions of racism, belonging and class – not to mention love, national identity and politics. Indeed, in some respects Higginson’s script could be criticised for trying to cram too many themes in too quickly. Yet, as the story develops, it becomes apparent that these various topics are merely elaborate constructions masking some simple, raw and primeval truths.
This feeling of physical tension is accentuated by the contrasting character portraits. On one side the upright and tightly strung porcelain figure of Celia could have stepped out of a Gainsborough portrait; she is composed, courteous and intersperses conversation with some curt smiles (or winces) and sharp glances. In apparent contrast is Pierre’s Gallic ease and relaxed air; seemingly assured and more comfortable in his own skin, at least in some respects.
Oldham, especially, seems bred for her role and acutely captures (or is part of) the famously socially awkward English Patrician class, more used to governing colonies or leading regiments of cavalry.
This is a dark play with many themes flowing through it. It is often intensely psychological as Celia especially fails to come to terms with or rationalise the physical realities which at root define her.
Traverse Theatre, 6-29 Aug (not 9, 16, 23), times vary