Thursday, 28 September 2017

REVIEW: Le Grand Mort at Trafalgar Studios


Like the fragrant pasta alla puttanesca that Michael (Julian Clary) cooks from scratch on stage, Le Grand Mort is a mixture of flavoursome ingredients, whose unbalanced combination could easily result in a stodgy meal. With its graphic elements and piquant frontal nudes, this rich recipe of sex, religion and death might not appeal to the most delicate palates but it does indeed cater for seasoned punters who crave for some zest.

With a relevant change in lighting, the intimate Trafalgar Studio Two alternates between the bar where Michael and Tim (James Nelson-Joyce) first meet and the former's kitchen, where he prepares a delicious dinner for two. Whilst cooking – as if talking to himself – he mentions a series of famous characters whose passing has been enveloped in such a plethora of anecdotes to generate a sort of pornography of death. Marilyn Monroe, Lady Diana and Rasputin are amongst the names mentioned, whilst Christ on the cross is described as a huge phallic symbol. As in this case, the mix is often disturbing and the words inevitably take centre stage in a piece where the action feels manufactured and patchy.

Written especially for Clary by the late Stephen Clark, the script benefits from the natural charm of both performers but this can't compensate the flimsy dramatisation and the blatant attempt to scandalise rather than inform the audience. 

Exchanging morbid confessions, the two men engage in a dangerous game of knives, whilst a thickening red light gradually floods the stage. The most intimate recesses of both characters are revealed, metaphorically translated into a real-size Vitruvian man against the back wall and, later, by Nelson-Joyce's nakedness. 

After a very promising initial quarter of an hour, enriched by many dark comedic gems, the genius is replaced by an uncomfortable repartee of obscenities. Sex and death dance hand in hand, recurring in conversation, but the visually charged climatic scene lacks sense of purpose and fails to transmit a clear message. 

More impressive than the most outrageous lines written by Clark, is the fully-
functioning kitchen designed by Justin Nardella. Every element of it has been thought of, including a multi-surface spray called 'Steel the show'. In my personal experience, the delicious scent of the sauce cooked by Clary was the most enthralling and truly multisensorial occurrence in the play.

Despite the prospect of a dead cold critical reception, I can foresee many audience members attending Le Grand Mort just to satisfy a morbid curiosity.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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