The second of Teatro Multilingue’s triptych, Mrs Green, is a twenty-minute play focusing on the lives and relationship of two foreign lovers living in Britain during the times of Brexit. It is an enjoyable play, I must say, and is, for the most part, coherent and accessible. However, as the play progresses, theatrical and stylistic techniques become obscure, and story is compromised by an obvious obsession with needless dramatic tension.
I shall start with story. The first issue I have is with the very title of the play. With our focus being on the two lovers, I find it difficult to comprehend why Mrs Green (Shenagh Gallivan), being a secondary and merely facilitative character, is presented as titular here, as if of primary importance. I perhaps understand the intention to use Mrs Green as a symbolic representation of the British ‘Anti-Brexiteers’ during the times of Brexit, but her influence is simply too minimal. Right from the start, then, focus is not where it should be.
Brexit itself is introduced gradually into the characters’ lives, with a sense of dramatic irony growing with us as each ‘Chapter’ presents us with a quote on the subject by a British prime minister. This is strong in that Brexit is allowed to become an insidious danger in the text, ultimately ending in the lovers’ ‘fallout’ — more on the efficacy of this later. With the situation of Brexit being something most European — and particularly bi-/multilingual — audience members will recognise and know, any further descriptions of Brexit would be somewhat needless here, and so we are given a sufficient amount of information on the subject. This is good. Equally, the cyclicality of the play, with the motif of Isabel’s (Altea Hernández) abandoned suitcase, successfully foreshadows the symbolic significance of Brexit and also the pain the characters will endure.
Multilingual theatre is always a treat, and I must say that the language use in this performance, for the most part, is decisive and well conceived. Having the characters perform monologues and soliloquies to the audience in their own language vs speaking English amongst each other is a clever way to create intimacy between character and audience member and unity between characters. In this way, languages are organised well.
On the same line of story structure, I must say that focus in this dramatic text needs quite a bit of work. For instance, back on to the topic of Mrs Green, Gallivan is seen throughout the lovers’ interactions placing her handmade political posters upon the wall, upstage. Perhaps a directorial decision, this is incredibly distracting, moving our focus away from the lovers — where it should be — and towards her needless pottering about in the background. Less significantly, we could also consider the attention to detail given in the description of the lovers’ landladies, Mrs Green, again, and Mrs Brown, a character we never actually meet, and could compare this to the time and detail given to the lovers’ first encounter, which is most brief and lacking, though an event of extreme significance in the plot. I should also note here the deliberate code-switching when Jacques (Maxence Dinant) proceeds to describe Mrs Brown to the audience in English after having explained everything else in French. Consistency is key.
Attention to detail is also rather lacking where characterisation is concerned, and, especially, attention to naturalism. For example, considering this very first encounter again, Hernández speaks incredibly quickly, again minimising the readability of the significance of this scene — such a quick and fleeting meeting would hardly garner interest in a second between strangers — and, of course, comprises the naturalism of speech. Then, Jacques informs us that English people often mistake him for a Londoner, which is most unrealistic considering Dinant’s strong French accent. Either the text should be altered here, or Dinant should have extra accent training to match the role he plays. After the lovers’ second interaction, Hernández turns to ‘the audience’ and describes Jacques to ‘us’ — note here the apostrophisations, as Hernández does not face the camera but stares off to the side. Who is she talking to here? This needs to be far clearer. Similarly to this latter issue, when Mrs Green details her experience of her former French lodger and then apologises for her lack of care in the swiftly-following subsequent scene, we are made to imagine Hernández’s responses as Gallivan mimes that she is interacting with her. This is a terrible decision. Hernández plays a principal character; she should be present in such scenes, not imagined. This is a stylistic inconsistency. Lastly, we have moments like the one in the texting scene where Jacques’s ‘boss was coming’, yet all Dinant presents us with a mere momentary glance to the side, not even attempting to conceal his phone — most unnaturalistic.
It is elements like these that make a good amount of scenes either totally unwatchable or seem simply amateurish, and what is worse is this aforementioned insistence on dramatic tension. Theatremakers should not rely solely upon technical and spectacular elements to create dramatic tension; instead, these should be used to intensify the dramatic tension already present in the text. I say this, of course, in consideration of the final scenes of the play. Three major and notable things happen towards the end: the lovers have their first and final argument, Mrs Green recites some poetry, and then, we have the final scene seeing Mrs Green posing stiffly over Isabel’s abandoned suitcase. The first of the three, the argument, is…pathetic, for a lack of better words. From the ill-timed and jarring interruptions to the awkward repetition of “Why are you doing all this?!”, this entire argument scene needs to be completely rewritten. This scene seems to come out of nowhere, with no clear tension having been building between the two characters beforehand, and the level of characterisation and credibility is simply horrendous. The long and hardly visible shots of the two leaving the stage and auditorium lend too much focus to the characters’ exits as opposed to what caused them to exit in the first place. Oh, and then Mrs Green drops her poster! As if this has some terrific, dramatic significance. This scene is simply awful.
Then, we have Mrs Green’s recitation. This is both inconsistent with style, given that poetry has not featured in this performance thus far and that a mere verse is not enough to ground it in the text now, but also awkward in Gallivan’s over-performativity and the previous lack of solemnity in the text to make this scene meaningful and serious. Lastly, the final scene. Much like Mrs Green, I too remained speechless for one minute and forty-two seconds while she rigidly poses with a suitcase, the camera being walked further and further away, ever so slowly, until she is a mere blob on the screen. I cannot comprehend in the slightest why this was believed to have been an effective and powerful ending. It is, quite honestly, ridiculous. As I said above, Mrs Green is not a principal character, despite her titular name; she is merely an eccentric, jittery and homely landlady who happens to be swallowed up by the Anti-Brexit movement. We are simply not made to care enough for her or to view her character with enough seriousness or critical thought to be able to be affected or impacted by this unthoughtful ending and the effects that Brexit have supposedly [indirectly] had on her.
Moving my focus away from the writing and towards the acting. Whilst naturalism is lacking in many places, as said before — though this is principally an editorial issue — all performers demonstrate some degree of credibility in this play, with an emphasis here on Gallivan’s characterisation. Energy is also high across all three performers. Chemistry between Jacques and Isabel definitely comes across; Dinant and Hernández portray intimacy believably and extremely well. This is commendable.
To conclude, this is quite a weak performance, but until the oddities in the final scenes, it is rather enjoyable, and this is mostly because of this aforementioned energy the actors each possess. The dramatic text needs a severe amount of editing, with better concentration on story structure and the articulation of political messages, and not to mention consistency of character thought, with Jacques’s relationship with Brexit being completely unclear and changing, for example. Editing is needed even where lighting is concerned, which is far too harsh and expansive throughout. Overall, I would replace washes with focused spotlights and, for example, light the couple harshly from in front in the Brighton beach scene to fill the frame with a mere silhouette of the characters and to leave the creation of the beach to our imagination [which I believe was perhaps the desired effect, but it simply was not achieved]. A cleaner lighting design would make the use of space in this performance slightly more legible.