13: The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol

3 Apr

Some productions set your mind on fire, changing the way you think and opening up all sorts of new pathways in your head. The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol did that for me when I saw it in London in 1995. I bought the play script in the foyer after the show and read it a couple of times, trying to relive the magic of the production.

Book in front of T-shirt with bear.

It was interesting to come back to it now, all these years later, and read it without the incredible Theatre de Complicite staging fresh in my mind. So, first things first. This is a play based on a story by John  Berger and adapted by Complicite’s Simon McBurney and Mark Wheatley over a long period of rehearsals with the team of actors and designers.

Lucie Cabrol is a peasant woman living a life of unbearable hardship. She’s small and wizened, ostracised by her village, taunted and ridiculed but she proves herself incapable of being diminished. Her first life is on her parent’s farm, her second is after she has been cast out, her third is in the afterlife, following her murder. The play is as simple and grim as a folk tale. It is also filled with laughter and joy, where you’d least expect to find it.

The scene I remember best from the production, was the one where Lucie seduces and has sex with Jean, one of the villagers. It was the most exciting, intense and theatrical thing I’ve ever seen on stage.

Here is how it is written in the script:

[Lucie] gives Jean some milk and spills it down his chest. A crash of thunder. He takes off his shirt. She wipes her hand on him and licks him. They play. He lifts her. They crash into the wall of planks. And then through them. They roll back on under the planks. The planks swing above them and drop in front of them. The planks slow to a gentle swinging motion until they make a door which, after a moment, Jean opens. Jean and Lucie go through it and sit.

What you don’t necessarily see in your mind when you read this description is that the rest of the cast are holding the huge planks. They are dancing with them, crashing them into the floor, raising them high above Lucie and Jean, creating an ecstasy of sound and movement at the same time that they create the walls of the barn, the bed and the roof.

As a written play, The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol is almost Brechtian in its lack of sentimentality. I love its symbolism and heightened theatricality but I can’t quite distance myself enough from my memories of the production to see it clearly as a text.

Publisher: Methuen Drama

Cast: 5M, 2F

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