by Elena Lynch
The message of this thoughtfully directed and excellently acted production is that life is only about love and jazz. Adapted from Boris Vian’s L’Ecume des Jours, Crescendos in Blue is a whimsical mixture of fantasy and realism.
One of the more unusual aspects of this production is its inventive staging. The audience is seated around a central acting space on the floor, but the actors are far from confined to this space. The action takes place directly in front and around you, on the balcony behind and the small platform at the front. Every available space is used. Actors crawl past your feet, shout down from above, sit amongst you and glide behind your backs. The disadvantage of this ambitious staging is that the audience’s view is sometimes blocked, and you have to strain to peer round at things behind and above you.
However, it immediately involves you in the lives of the characters, the “six teenagers and a mouse” as the introductory talk tells you. They fall in love but ultimately lose that love. It’s poignant and sad in several places, as well as being amusing. The painful moments of being a teenager, such as having that first dance together, are briefly but vividly brought to life by the actors. Particularly notable is Barthélémy Meridjen (Colin), who gets a lot of laughs when he gets carried away passionately kissing his own hand whilst pretending it is Chloe, the girl he’s in love with.
This realistic presentation of teenage life is balanced with more surreal scenes. The bizarre puppet scene featuring a conversation between a mouse and a cat completely confused me. In other scenes, characters confide in the mouse and show you what they are imagining. They immerse you in their fantasies and their whirlwind world of parties, friendship and love as soon as the play begins, helped by the fantastic playing of Les Alcolytes, an up-and-coming French Jazz band. They give the play passion and atmosphere. Unfortunately, sometimes they were too loud and it was a strain to hear the actors’ voices. Crescendos in Blue is not a conventional play, and it is worth paying attention to the talk before the start. Although this talk is a bit too long, it does provide some useful insight into the play’s peculiarities. The heart of the play does overcome these, and what you really remember afterwards is the bittersweet story beautifully brought to life. A lot of care and thought has gone into every aspect of this piece, from set and costumes to the musicians who join in the dancing. If you fancy a break this week and want to try something a bit different, then go and experience it.
Crescendos in Blue runs at the Maison Francaise through Saturday, October 27th at 7:30 pm. On Saturday, there is a 4 pm matinee.