Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 7, 9 August 1999

Catherine Lovatt T H E A T R E:
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Dan Puric's Toujours L'Amour

Catherine Lovatt

This year, the Gate theatre in London's Notting Hill is home to a series of five East European plays as part of the first of its first summer international season. Last week, two Romanian actors took to the stage with their performance of Toujours L'Amour, written and directed by Dan Puric in a performance without words. Using a mixture of music, dance and mime, he delivers a humorous exploration of love and relationships.

Waiting with anticipation for the performance to begin, I began to wonder why I was here. There is something quite unappealing about going to watch a show without words. Images of mime artists that clutter the streets of London's excessively touristy Covent Garden leapt into my mind and I began to think that I had made a big mistake. The first couple of scenes only reinforced my opinion. To this day I still do not know what these sences were about. The mimes were confusing and lacked innovation, withdrawing into the early years of silent movies.

Despite my initial impressions, I decided to remain and see if the performance improved. I was pleasantly surprised. Once the nerves had subsided, Carmen Ungureanu and Dan Puric delivered an exciting and perceptive performance. Exploring the intimacies of love with intuitive wit, different scenes marked different stages of relationships and life, beginning with the intrigue of the first meeting and ending with death.

A minimalist approach to stage props added to the fascination of the cabaret. Simplicity meant that the audience concentrated on the actors, rather than on the surroundings, drawing them deeper into their characters and allowing them to indentify more deeply with the protagonists. The performance relied on the humour of irony. One scene demonstrating this involved a man walking his "butch" dog meeting a woman walking her "feminine" dog. The chemistry between the dog and bitch and man and woman begins. The woman throws a ball, but the dogs refuse to retrieve it. The man ends up on his knees picking up the ball and returning it to the woman, who once again throws it. Finally, the two leave the stage with the man as the dog and the woman as the owner - under the thumb!

Audience participation has always been a pet hate of mine, and my heart sank when the two actors insisted on involving suspecting and unsuspecting members of the paying public. Although one part of the play involved calling upon an obviously pre-assigned person to assist in removing a demobilised Puric, other sections drew on the true improvisation of unpredictability. Through the exploration of infidelity, the two characters drew two members of the audience to the stage to play the role of the "lovers". Surprisingly, the scene worked well with the actors creating a sense of jealousy and emotion.

The last scene was a moving interpretation of the ageing process. What had previously been two relatively young characters were transformed through the creative use of light and dance to display how old age had crept upon them. Without the use of make-up the two characters appeared to decay before your eyes, leaving the audience with a twinge of sadness.

The performance by Puric and Ungureanu sent the audience on a roller coaster of emotions from the humorous, to the happy, to the sad. The use of dance and music compensated for the lack of dialogue: it brought alive the mimes and transformed a potentially stale performance into a lively and accurate portrayal of love and kindness. Puric and Ungureanu captivated the onlookers with their wit and humour, bringing alive the characters with astonishing perception and foresight.

Catherine Lovatt, 9 August 1999




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